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A Way with Words Podcast by Grant Barrett

A Way with Words Podcast

by Grant Barrett

Product Details

Running Time
50 Min.
Offered
Weekly

Description

A Way with Words is public radio's humorous hour-long call-in show about the English language with authors and language experts Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.


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Can of Worms (Rebroadcast) - 21 April 2014


Sun, Apr 20, 2014


What do you call a guy with a bald pate? A chrome dome? Maybe the lucky fellow is sporting a solar panel for a sex machine. Also, which would you rather open: a can of worms or Pandora's Box? Plus, ordinary vs. ornery, versing vs. versus, dishwater vs. ditchwater, the copyediting term stet, still hunts, and doozies. And if someone's a phony, is he a four-flusher or a floor-flusher? Maybe he's also a piece of work.

FULL DETAILS

Has anyone collected the stuff bald people say? How about a busy road grows no grass, or God only made so many perfect heads—the rest he covered in hair. Jorge Luis Borges deemed the 1982 Falklands War between the UK and Argentina as "a fight between two bald men over a comb."

If someone seems too good to be true, he may be a four-flusher. This term for "a fake" or "a phony" comes from the poker slang four-flusher, meaning someone who has four cards of a suit but not yet the full flush. Some people confuse the term as floor-flusher, like in the 1954 Popeye cartoon about a plumbing mishap that makes humorous use of this expression.

Is someone dull as ditchwater or dishwater? The more common phrase, which came into use much earlier, is ditchwater.

What do you call the rear compartment of a station wagon or minivan? Many know it as the way back, not to be confused with the regular back, which is more likely to have seat belts.

Who knows if Harry means "hairy," but we do know that the name Calvin means "bald." It derives from the Latin calvus, which means the same thing, and is also the root of the term Calvary.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski plays master of ceremonies for the Miss Word Pageant, a popularity contest for words based on their Google search frequency. For example, between bacon, lettuce and tomato, bacon takes the prize by far for most Google hits, while lettuce brings up the rear. What’d lettuce do for the talent portion?

What's the difference between Pandora's box and a can of worms? In Greek myth, the contents of the fateful box belonging to Pandora (literally, "all gifts" in ancient Greek) were a mystery. WIth a can of worms, on the other hand, you know the kind of tangled, unpleasant mess you're in for. It's worms.

Does the possessive “s” go at the end of a proper name ending in “s”? What's the possessive of  a name like James -- James' or James's? Either's correct, depending on your style guide. The AP Stylebook says you just use an apostrophe, but others say to add the “s”. Your best bet is to choose a style and then be consistent.

The term callow goes back to Old English calu, meaning "bald." The original sense of callow referred to young birds lacking feathers on their heads, then referred to a young man's down cheek, and eventually came to mean "youthful" or "immature."

The word stet was borrowed from the Latin word spelled the same way, which translates "let it stand." Stet is commonly used by writers and editors to indicate that something should remain as written, especially after a correction has been suggested.

Why do we refer to a draw in tic-tac-toe as a cat's game? Throughout the history of the game, cats have been associated with it. In some Spanish-speaking countries, for example, it's known as gato, or "cat."

Photos and tests from the Mars Rover show an abundance of hematite, a dark red mineral that takes its name from the Greek word haima, meaning "blood." Another mineral, goethite, is named for the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an amateur geologist whose collection of 18,000 minerals was famous throughout Europe.

Is versing, meaning "to compete against someone," a real verb? In the past thirty years, this term has grown in popularity because versus, when spoken, sounds like a conjugated verb. So youngsters especially will talk about one team getting ready to verse another. Similar things happened with misunderstanding the plural forms of kudos (in ancient Greek, "glory") and biceps (literally, "two-headed") — both of those words were originally singular.

To sell woof tickets, or wolf tickets, is African-American slang meaning "to threaten in a boastful manner."  Geneva Smitherman, a professor at Michigan State University who's studied the term, believes it has its origins in the idea of a dog barking uselessly.

The term doozie, which refers to something good or first rate, may derive from daisy, as in the flower, sometimes considered an example of excellence. It might also have to do with the Italian actress Eleanora Duse, who toured the States in the 1890s.

Goethe wasn't all about the minerals. He's also quoted as saying, "One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." Goethe also said, "Everything is simpler than one can imagine and yet complicated and intertwined beyond comprehension," which seems quite appropriate for a poet whose name graces rocks on another planet.

What does it mean if someone's on a still hunt? This hunting term, for when you're walking quietly to find prey, has been conscripted by the political world to refer to certain kinds of campaign strategies.

Can ordinary also mean "crude" or "crass"? This usage was more common in previous generations, but it is acceptable. It's also the source of ornery, meaning "combative" or "crotchety."

If someone's a piece of work, they're a real pain in the rear. Merriam-Webster defines a piece of work as "a complicated, difficult, or eccentric person." The expression appears to derive  from Hamlet.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.



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Nothing to Sneeze At - 14 April 2014


Sun, Apr 13, 2014


This week, forensic linguists use what they know about speech and writing to testify in courtrooms. And get out your hankies! Martha and Grant are talking about the language of … sneezing. And what do you call it when you clean the house in a hurry because company's coming? How about "making lasagna" or "shame cleaning"? Plus who's a hoopie, down goes your shanty, hold on to your blueberry money, and gym slang fit for a cardio queen.

FULL DETAILS

Having trouble sneezing? You may be suffering from arrested sternutation, also known as a sneeze freeze!

Is it still cleaning if you just throw things in a closet? Terms for this practice include making a lasagna, shame cleaning, or stuffing the comedy closet. Just be careful not to end up with a Fibber McGee catastrophe.

Is there a connection between the ancient Greek muse and the word amused? No. The muses were mythological figures who inspired the likes of Homer, while amuse comes from the Latin word for "staring stupidly," as in, "to be distracted by mindless entertainment."

Why do we sneeze when we go from a dark theater to the bright outdoors? The photic sneeze reflex is a genetic trait many of us have, as part of the Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helo-Ophthalmic Outburst Syndrome, the backronym for ACHOO!

You don't know siccum, meaning "you don't know anything," is an idiom common in the Northwest. It's a shortened form of he doesn't know come here from sic 'em, as in a dog that doesn't know how to obey commands.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game for all of us who fancy the blank tiles in Words With Friends. Given a word and two blank tiles, place one on either end to form a new word. For example, at least two new words can be made by adding a letter to either end of the word eight.

If someone's a hoopie, it means they're less than sophisticated. This term was used in the Ohio River Valley to refer to the bumpkins from West Virginia who performed menial work with barrels, hammering their hoops into place.

How should news organizations refer to elected officials, past and present? There's not much consensus among print and broadcast companies, but most organizations have their own set of rules. For example, NPR's policy is to refer to the current president as President Barack Obama the first time he's mentioned in a news story, and thereafter as Mr. Obama.

Here's a proverb about the days on which you sneeze. "Sneeze on a Monday, you sneeze for danger. Sneeze on a Tuesday, kiss a stranger..." But wait, there's more!

What kind of slang will you find at the gym? The old standby, jacked, meaning "muscular," may derive from the lifting motion of a car jack. January joiners are those well-meaning souls who make new year's resolutions to get in shape, and stop showing up a week later. Cardio queens are the ladies in fancy sweatsuits taking a leisurely stroll on the treadmill while reading a magazine.

What's it called when a fit of sneezing takes hold? Try ptarmosis, from the Greek ptarmos for "sneeze." Or sternutamentum, meaning rapid, spasmodic sneezing.

Forensic linguistics, the subject of a recent New Yorker piece by Jack Hitt, is a useful tool in the courtroom. Linguists like Roger Shuy, who's written a handful of books on the subject, have managed to solve criminal cases by identifying personal and regional distinctions in a suspect's language. Though far from a silver bullet, the practice seems to have a solid place in the future of law enforcement.

If someone still has their blueberry money, chances are they're a bit stingy. This term from the Northeast refers to those who've held onto the change they made picking and selling blueberries as a kid.

What's the origin of the warning phrase “down goes your shanty!”? This bit of menacing slang pops up in letters written by Civil War soldiers. One wrote, "If I ever get a chance to draw sight on a rebel, down goes his shanty." It has a similar meaning to a phrase heard in Oklahoma: down goes your meat house!

If you sneeze at the end of a meal, you may be afflicted with snatiation. It's that tickle in the nose you feel when you're full.

Why do people use the phrase going forward when talking about the future? Although it sometimes carries legitimate meaning, the expression is often just a pleonastic bit of business jargon that ends up on plenty of lists of people's pet peeves.

Is the synonym for pamphlet spelled f-l-y-e-r or f-l-i-e-r? Both. In the UK, it’s flyer, and in the US, flier is preferred.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.



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Keep Your Pants On - 7 April 2014


Sun, Apr 06, 2014


This week on "A Way with Words": If everyone on the planet spoke a single language, wouldn't that make life a whole lot easier? For that matter, is a common world language even possible? Maybe for a minute or so--until new words and phrases start springing up. Also, did you ever wonder why the guy at your local coffee shop is a barista and not a baristo? There's a good grammatical reason. Finally, pass the gorp--we have the scoop on the name of this crunchy snack. Plus, gorp, double bubble, concertina wire, the story behind the movie title Winter's Bone, safe and sound, and a couple vs. a pair.

FULL DETAILS

The finalists at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament wear giant headphones to block out the noise of the crowd and color commentary. As it happens, the white noise being pumped into them is the pre-recorded sound of a United Nations cocktail party.

Male baristas aren't called baristos for the same reason that male Sandinistas aren't Sandinistos. There's a certain class of nouns in both Italian and Spanish where the definite article changes to indicate gender, but the noun stays the same.

If you need a password that contains at least eight characters and one capital, there's always Mickey Minnie Pluto Huey Louie Dewey Donald Goofy Sacramento.

Contrary to popular belief, gorp is not an acronym for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts. Earlier recipes for this crunchy snack contained all kinds of things, like soybeans, sunflower seeds, oats, pretzels, raisins, Wheat Chex and kelp, as in John McPhee's famous essay, "Travels in Georgia."

Working double bubble is when you get paid double for working overtime or outside your normal work hours, and it's a classic bit of British rhyming slang.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski invites his alter ego, Dr. Word, to present a quiz about Latin names for working stiffs.

If someone's impatiently pounding on your front door, you might respond Keep your pants on! The origin of this phrase is unclear, though it may be related to keep your shirt on, and other expressions that refer to partially disrobing before a fistfight.

To fill your boots means "to go after something with gusto." Similarly, the tableside injunction Fill your boots! is an invitation to chow down.

The idiom safe and sound tells the story of the English language in three words: safe comes from French, and sound is a Germanic word with the same root as Gesundheit, meaning "health."

Concertina wire, the coiled barbed wire that's compact and easy to move around, takes its name from the concertina, an accordion-like instrument.

You wouldn't say the NASA launched a space shuttle, or you watched March Madness on the CBS. Similarly, initialisms like NSA and FBI are sometimes said without the article, especially by insiders.

A quiddler is someone who wastes his energy on trifles.

If we ever settled on one universal language that everyone spoke, it would last about a minute before variants of slang started popping up.

The title Winter's Bone, an acclaimed film based on Daniel Woodrell's country noir novel, is an idiom the author created by personifying the season, which throws the main character a bone.

Oxford University doesn't really have a mascot, so a listener asks on our Facebook page: Why not call them the Oxford Commas?

A couple is not necessarily the same as a pair; it can certainly mean more than two, and it's always dependent on context.

A hawk in its prime state of fitness is known as a yarak, a word that may derive from a Persian word meaning "strength, ability."

To secrete means "to produce and discharge a fluid," a back-formation from secretion. But a similarly spelled verb means "to deposit in a hiding place." For both verbs, the pronunciation of the past tense, secreted, requires a long e in the middle.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.



Download File - 47.1 MB (Click to Play on Mobile Device)
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Springtime Twitterpation - 31 March 2014


Mon, Mar 31, 2014


Springtime is the right time to feel twitterpated—you know, you're smitten beyond a crush. Speaking of relationships, are dog owners really owners, or should they call themselves something else, like guardian or human? And if you're up for a challenge, some adult spelling bee words, including ostreiform and langlauf. Plus, ollie ollie oxen free, toad-strangling rain, zugzwang, canceled vs. cancelled, and how to pronounce herbal, hyperbole, and inchoate.

 FULL DETAILS

Even adults can use a good spelling bee now and then. It's a good way to learn words like ostreiform, meaning "having the shape of an oyster," and langlauf, a "cross-country ski run."

Springtime is the right time to feel twitterpated. That is, smitten like a nutty, twittering bird.

Why do the Brits pronounce the H in herbal?

When it rains, it pours. And when it pours, it's called a toad-strangler. Depending on what part of the U.S. you're from, you might also call it other names, such as frog strangler, goose-drownder, or gullywasher.

The word yannigan, meaning "a member of a scrub team in baseball," may come from an alteration of "young one."

What do darts, flubs, and maids have in common? Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski puts it to us in a game of rhymes.

Did you say ollie ollie oxen free to draw people out of hiding during hide-and-seek? Or maybe you said one of the other versions of this phrase, such as all-ee, all-ee, in free, or Ole Ole Olson all in free.

If you've accomplished something, be proud! But is it condescending to say you're proud of someone when you had nothing to do with their success? A listener worries that the meaning of the word proud includes a sense of ownership.

In the Kiswahili language, the dead go into two categories: sasha for the recently departed, and zamani for spirits not known by anyone living.

How many L's go in past tense of cancel?

If you're mispronouncing words like inchoate and hyperbole, you can console yourself with the knowledge that you're most likely reading at a high level.

You have a dog. Are you its owner, or person, or Mommy dearest? What do you call yourself in reference to the pet?

The term zugzwang comes from chess, and refers to that situation where you can't make any desirable moves—like being between a rock and a hard place.

Ombrology is a fancy word for the study of toad-stranglers.

Why do we turn proper nouns, like JC Penney or Kroger, into possessives, as in, Penny's or Kroger's?

For all the gothic architecture fans out there—hold onto the term ogival, which means "having the form of a pointed arch."

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.



Download File - 47.1 MB (Click to Play on Mobile Device)
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Dust Bunnies - 24 March 2014


Mon, Mar 24, 2014


This week on "A Way with Words": Is it cheating to say you've read a book if you only listened to it on tape? Over the centuries, the way we think about reading has changed a lot.There was a time, for example, when reading silently was considered strange. Plus, what do you call those soft rolls of dust that accumulate under the bed? Dust bunnies? Dust kitties? How about house moss? And the surprising backstory to every man's favorite accessory—the cummerbund. Also: saucered and blowed, skinflint, sporty peppers, tips for proofreading, and the Great Chai Tea Debate.

 FULL DETAILS

Is it cheating to say you've read a book when you've really just listened to the audiobook?

Chai tea is not redundant—just tasty. But that doesn't stop people from debating the question.

Long live Southern names! Classics like Henry Ritter Emma Ritter Dema Ritter Sweet Potatoe Creamatartar Caroline Bostick go way back, but the tradition is still alive and well.

Our Quiz Master John Chaneski could make a fortune with some of the Apps he's created for this game.

If you thought cummerbunds served no purpose today, wait until you hear of their original use.

Don't be that kid who grows so frustrated with a neighborhood game that he takes the ball and storms home—you know, a rage-quitter.

Considering that the first alphabet goes back as far as 1600 BC, it's pretty remarkable how little has changed. Robert Fradkin, a classics professor at the University of Maryland's Robert Fradkin illustrates this point with helpful animations on his Evolution of Alphabets page.

Oh, adjectives. Sometimes you are indeed the banana peel of the parts of speech.

Skinflint, meaning stingy or tight-fisted, comes from the idea that someone's so frugal they would try to skin a piece of the extremely hard rock called flint.

You might refer to those soft rolls of dust that collect under your bed as dust bunnies, dust kitties, or woolies, but in the Deep South they're sometimes called house moss.

Chances are you're not familiar with most of the books that win the Nobel Prize in literature because most of them aren’t translated into English. Fortunately, Words Without Borders is doing something about that.

Saucered and blowed is an idiom meaning that a project is finished or preparations are complete, but it's not that odd—Bill Clinton's used it. It derives from the rustic practice of spilling boiling-hot coffee into a saucer and blowing on it to cool it down.

What do you think the chances are that Sporty Spice has tried a sport pepper?

Proofreading is a skill to be learned, but you can start with tricks like printing out the text, reading aloud, or moving down the page with a ruler, one line at a time.

As Alberto Manguel points out in his book A History of Reading, there was a time when reading silently was considered a strange habit.

Susurrous, meaning "having a rustling sound," derives from Latin susurrous, "whisper."

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.



Download File - 47.1 MB (Click to Play on Mobile Device)
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Sound of a Kiss - 17 March 2014


Mon, Mar 17, 2014


This week on "A Way with Words": You're at a social gathering and meet someone you'd like to know better. What do you ask to get a real conversation going? Some people lead with "What do you do?," while others avoid talking about work entirely. Still others ask, "Where'd you go to high school?' Also, the fancy way linguists describe the sound of a kiss. And what does it really mean when someone "breaks bad"? Plus, alight and come in, rustle my jimmies, breaking bad, grammatical calques, mashtag potatoes, comprise vs. compose, bangs vs. fringe, virgas and virgules, and bad Bible jokes.

 FULL DETAILS

In the U.S., we say mwah for the kissing noise. In parts of South America, it's chuik. And for linguists, of course, it's a bilabial lingual ingressive click.

Is pussyfooting, as in "treading lightly," an offensive term?

Here's a widely applicable book review: The covers of this book are too far apart. It's attributed to Ambrose Bierce, although it's unlikely he actually came up with it.

There should be no dilemma about the spelling of dilemma. It's not dilemna, and it's a mystery why so many people were taught that way.

No need to ask your doctor about virga. That's just the term for "a diagonal streak of rain that evaporates before it hits the ground." It derives from the Latin for "rod," and is related to virgule, a fancy name for that punctuation mark otherwise known as a slash.

Our Quiz-Man John Chaneski has a game about the Batman villains who didn't make the cut. All of their names end in -er, like The Matchmaker and The Firecracker.

The term breaking bad means to raise hell, although if you weren't a Southerner, you might not have been aware that the rest of the country didn't know the phrase before Vince Gilligan, a Virginian, created the TV show by that name.

Mashtags are potato snacks, pressed into the shapes of social media characters. Because marketers need a way to make junk food appeal to teens.

A question for heterosexual guys: What words do you use to describe other men who are good-looking? Attractive? Handsome?

Stan Carey has an excellent example of book spine poetry up on his site, this one titled "Antarctica."

Alight and come in is an old-fashioned, hospitable phrase recalling a time when a visitor who's ridden a long way might be invited to hop off his horse and step inside for a meal. Variations include alight and look at your saddle and alight and look at your beast.

All of which reminds Martha, a preacher's kid, of the riddle "When were cigarettes mentioned in the Bible?" Answer: Genesis 24:64.

You're at a social gathering and meet someone you'd like to know better. What question you lead with to get a real conversation going?

The history of German and Yiddish speakers in the United States has lead to a wealth of calques, in which the grammar of one language is applied to another.

Beware the biblical pun: What kind of car did the three wise men drive? A Honda. They all came with one Accord.

Comprise is a tricky word, and its usage is in the process of changing. But there's an easy way to remember the traditional rule: Don't ever use comprised of. Just don't. Here's an example: The alphabet comprises 26 letters. You could also say The alphabet is composed of 26 letters.

Ever have that experience where you're scrolling through photos of cute babies on Facebook and then all of a sudden there's a picture of something gross that just rustles your jimmies?

When it comes to hair, what the British call fringe, people in the U.S. call bangs. The stateside version most likely has to do with the idea of a bangtail horse, meaning a horse whose tail has been cut straight across.

When was tennis mentioned in the Bible? When Joseph served in Pharaoh's court.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2014, Wayword LLC.



Download File - 47.1 MB (Click to Play on Mobile Device)
Listen To This Podcast (Streaming Audio)



Blow a Gasket - 10 March 2014


Mon, Mar 10, 2014


The Pope is tweeting in Latin! But can an ancient language adapt to a world of selfies and hashtags? Speaking of the future, cars are now talking to each other with V-2-V communication. And pit bull owners are trying to soften the image of their cute little dogs by calling them "pibbles." Plus, pizza bones, grand-nieces vs. great-nieces, pin vs. pen, sisu, blow a gasket, and write it on the ice.

FULL DETAILS

The Pope tweets in Latin! As it turns out, Latin is such an efficient language that it can compress a lot into 140 characters.

What do you call your brother's granddaughter? Your great-niece or your grandniece? The Thomasville, Georgia, man who claims to have the world's largest collection of photos of relatives riding camels wants an answer.

Thanks to Beyonce Knowles, who helped popularize the term bootylicious, the word surfbort is now a thing.

For at least one listener, the crust on a slice of pizza is the dashboard. Italians have a specific word for that: cornicione.

If you write it on the ice, what you write will be impermanent, or not to be counted on--the opposite of carved in stone.

Puzzlemaster John Chaneski remixes the news by anagramming one word in each headline. For starters, which word is an anagram in New Deal in Honeybee Deaths?

Finns say their word sisu meaning "guts" or "fortitude" characterizes their national identity. Does your culture have a such a word, like the Portuguese term saudade, perhaps?

In the 16th or 17th century, a gourmand might be known by the less pretentious term slapsauce. The same term has also meant "glutton."

Add blow a gasket to your list of Downton Abbey anachronisms.

Snowboarders flailing their arms in the air might be the last folks who still wind down the windows.

Pin vs pen is a classic example of the vowel merger specific to the Southern dialect.

What does one order when on a strict diet? How about a honeymoon salad: "lettuce alone!"

The Vatican has a long list of new Latin terms invented to denote things in the modern world, such as umbrella descensoria ("parachute) and ludus follis ovati (literally, "oval ball inflated with wind," otherwise known as rugby).

Heyna is Pennsylvanian for "innit."

Martha proposes the word miesta, a sort of combination of  "me-time" and a "siesta."

Fraught, meaning "loaded with worry or negative portent," related to the English word freight. It's perfectly fine to use fraught without the word with, as in This situation is fraught.

Pit bull owners have taken to calling their pooches pibbles in an effort to make them sound less threatening. In fact, they can make great pets.

Do people call you by a nickname without asking? A caller named Elizabeth is baffled when people she's just met insist on calling her Liz. 

V-2-V communication, meaning "vehicle to vehicle," is a great way for cars to prevent accidents, or to flirt with each other.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, celebrating 35 years of making a leadership difference with Situational Leadership II, the leadership model designed to boost effectiveness, impact, and employee engagement. More about how Blanchard can help your executives and organizational leaders at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

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Dog-and-Pony Show (Rebroadcast) - 3 March 2014


Sun, Mar 02, 2014


Remember getting caught sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G? Grant and Martha wax nostalgic on some classic schoolyard rhymes. What do you call your offspring once they've grown up? Adult children? How about kid-ults? Plus, is there really such a thing as a dog-and-pony show? What does a dog chewing waspers look like? Also, the reason the words valuable and invaluable aren't opposites.

FULL DETAILS

What's your favorite schoolyard rhyme? Maybe it's the singsong taunt that goes "Girls go to college to get more knowledge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider." Or the romantic standby about two lovebirds sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Some playground chants are rude, others are crude, and many involve figuring out that whole business about the birds and the bees.

If you're an empty nester, you've probably wondered about a term for one's grown offspring. Do you use the term adult children? How about kid-ults? Since the 1960's, the latter has also been used in the marketing and advertising world. There, kid-ults often refers to, for example, the kind of grownup who enjoys reading Harry Potter. This term combining the words kid and adult is an example of a portmanteau word, or what linguists call a blend.

How do you pronounce ogle? Is it oh-gle? Oogle? By far the best pronunciation is the former. But older slang dictionaries do include the verb oogle. All of these words connote the idea of looking on with desire, often with a sexy up-and-down glance.

It's time for a round of Name that Tune! What familiar song, translated into Shakespearean English, begins "Oh, proud left foot that ventures quick within, then soon upon a backward journey lithe"? There's much more to these overwrought lyrics, which come from Jeff Brechlin's winning entry in a contest sponsored by The Washington Post. The newspaper asked readers to submit familiar instructions in the style of a famous writer. The results are pretty funny.

Just in time for the new movie season, Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game involving one-word movie titles that have won Best Picture Academy Awards. For example, which Oscar-winning film is titled with a man's middle name that means "for the love of God"?

Does a statement have to be true to be a fact? When it comes to the difference between facts and opinions, some may argue that facts are merely claims that can be proven true or false. Most dictionaries, however, assert that in order for an assertion to be a fact, it must be true.

What does it mean to look like a dog chewing waspers? Or like a possum eating persimmons? And what does it mean when someone says, "He was grinning like a mule eating briars?" These idioms, which have been recorded in Kentucky and Virginia, refer to people chewing with their mouths open in a less-than-civilized fashion. In all of these examples, the one who's masticating is showing lots of teeth -- rather like a beagle trying to eat a sliding glass door.

Time for more Name that Tune: What song, often sung in rounds, inspired this high-falutin' first line? "Propel, propel, propel your craft, progressively down the liquid solution."

Why does the prefix in- sometimes make a synonym rather than an antonym? In the case of  invaluable, the prefix is still a negation, since it suggests that something's value is incalculable. Michael Quinion's website affixes.org shows how in- prefixes have been corrupted over time.

Yikes! Come to think of it, what if the hokey pokey IS what it's all about?

Do children still need to learn cursive? Many listeners now in their twenties say they didn't learn cursive in school and have trouble reading it. Others view it as a lost art, akin to calligraphy, which should be learned and practiced for its aesthetic value.

What is a dog-and-pony show? This disparaging term goes back to the 1920s, when actual dog and pony shows competed with far more elaborate circuses. Many times the dog-and-pony offerings served as a front to hoochie-coochie shows or tents serving illegal alcohol. Over time, in the worlds of politics, business, and the military, the term was transferred to perfunctory or picayune presentations.

Is it correct to say "I have no ideal" instead of "no idea"? In Kentucky, this use of ideal is common across education and socioeconomic lines. Flustrated, a variant of frustrated that connotes more anger and confusion, is also common in the Bluegrass State. Grant explains the liquidity of the letters L and R, the sounds of which are often confused in English.

"Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was black as ink, it chewed the paper off the walls and spit it in the sink." There's a variation you probably missed on the playground!

What's the difference between agreeance vs. agreement? While agreeance is a word, it hasn't been used since the 19th century, whereas agreement is both correct and common. Best to go with agreement.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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Good Juju (Rebroadcast) - 24 February 2014


Mon, Feb 24, 2014


Imagine a time when heroin was marketed for the whole family. It really happened. Also, how Twitter, M&M's, and Hallmark cards got their names. Plus, restaurant slang, bad juju, having a wild hair, cutting to the quick, and use vs. utilize.

FULL DETAILS

Nancy Friedman's blog Fritinancy is a great source of information about how products get their names. For example, the names Twitch and Jitter were rejected before the creators of Twitter finally settled on the famous moniker.

The idiom I've got a wild hair, which dates to the 50’s, means you're itching to do something. It's pretty literal: just think about those itchy stray hairs under your collar after a haircut.

Is it fussy and pretentious to use the word whom instead of who? If you think so, you'll  be heartened by writer Calvin Trillin's observation on the difference between whom and who: "As far as I'm concerned, whom is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler."

Which is correct: use or utilize? The answer depends on the context. The word utilize carries an additional shade of meaning, suggesting that you’re using something in a way it’s not ordinarily employed. For example, you would use a stapler to staple, but you might utilize a stapler as a paperweight. In any case, if you want to be grammatically correct, use is your safest bet.

One of comedian Megan Amram’s hilarious tweets made Martha wonder about how M&M's got their name. In 1940, Forrest Mars and an heir to the Hershey fortune, Bruce Murrie, created a candy similar to the European chocolates called Smarties. The American version takes its name from the initials of the candymakers' last names, Mars and Murrie.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word game full of Colbertisms, in honor of how comedian Stephen Colbert pronounces his own name, with a silent "T" at the end. Why not drop the "T" off all words ending in "RT"?

Why do newspaper reporters end articles with the number "30"or the three-pound-sign symbol "###"? No one knows for sure, although that never stopped journalists from debating the origin of this way of ending a story. We do know that this practice arose in a bygone era when reporters typed their copy directly onto paper and handed it over to copyboys, and needed a way to indicate the last page. In 2007, a vestige of this old practice figured in an amusing correction in the New York Times.

What is the best way to write an apology to a customer, especially if you’re handling complaints for a corporation. Some tips: be sincere, and make sure your wording makes clear that you understand the consumer's complaint and that your company takes responsibility for the mistake and wants to make things right.

Aspirin is now a generic drug, but it was once a brand-name product made by Bayer. It's just one of many genericized trademarks, also known as proprietary eponyms, which includes not only aspirin, but kerosene, dry ice, and cellophane.

What is juju? Is there such a thing as good juju, or is it only possible to have bad juju? This African term for a "charm" or "spell" took off during the Back-To-Africa movement in the 1960's, and has been mentioned in connection with international soccer matches.

Is it true that the drug heroin was once marketed to families? Yes! In the 1890’s, heroin, a substitute for morphine, was hailed as a tremendous help to patients with tuberculosis, a leading cause of death at the time. Heroin eased the terrible suffering of tuberculosis by suppressing the respiratory system and thus the painful coughing fits associated with the disease. Nineteenth-century German doctors used the term heroisch ("heroic") to describe powerful drugs, and the German company that would later make Bayer aspirin dubbed this promising new drug Heroin. Before the drug's addictive nature and damaging effects were known, heroin was marketed specifically for children, resulting in some rather astonishing Spanish-language ads.

If a waiter needs a table for two, they might call for a two-top. This restaurant lingo, referring to the amount of place-settings needed, comes from a larger body of terms. Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential is a good source of additional slang from kitchens around the world.

If you cut something to the quick, it means you're getting at its very essence. It comes from the Old English word, cwicu, meaning alive. It the source of the quick in the phrase the quick and the dead, as well as the words quicksilver ("living silver"), and quicksand ("living sand"), and the quick of your finger, the tender part under the fingernail.

Hallmark Cards got its name from Joyce C. Hall, who bought an engraving shop along with his brothers in 1910. Would it have taken off had they just called it Hall Cards?

Why do we say that we have a doctor’s appointment instead of an appointment with a doctor? After all, we don’t say we have accountant’s appointments or attorney’s appointments. It seems that the possessive term has become lexicalized after many years of common use.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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Feeling Gruntled - 17 February 2014


Mon, Feb 17, 2014


Hyperbolic Headlines Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity!!!! Or maybe not. You've seen those breathless headlines on the internet, like "You Won't Believe What This 7-year-old Said to The President!" They're supposed to lure you to another webpage--but now there's a backlash against such clickbait. Plus, the most beautiful word in the Icelandic language. And if being disgruntled means you're annoyed, does being gruntled mean you're happy? Plus, gleeking, balloon juice, belly stretchers, scared vs. afraid, peruse, belting out a song, acknowledging the corn, To Whom It May Concern, and that awkward silence in elevators.

FULL DETAILS

In Icelandic, the term for "midwife" literally translates as "light mother." Icelanders voted it the most beautiful word in their language. Similarly, in Spanish, the phrase for "give birth," dar a luz, translates literally as "give to light."

Gleek doesn't just mean "a fan of the TV show Glee." It's also a verb meaning to shoot a stream of saliva out from under your tongue.

Disgruntled means "unhappy," and gruntled means the opposite, although you almost never hear the latter. Playing with such unpaired words can be irresistible, whether you're a poet or an essayist for The New Yorker.

A century or so ago, balloon juice was college slang for "empty talk."

An Indianapolis caller wonders if there's any difference in meaning between the words scared and afraid.

Why did the chicken cross the basketball court? Spoiler alert: the answer is a groaner.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle involving expressions that pair famous people with the last syllables of their names. For example, what kind of drinking vessel might a mustachioed genius named Albert use?

The word peruse is such a confusing term that it's best to avoid it entirely. Some English speakers were taught it means "to read casually," while others were taught exactly the opposite.
 
If you take a job at an airline, beware if your new co-workers ask you go find them a belly stretcher—they're playing a practical joke on you.

The elevator doors close, and there's that awkward silence while you and your fellow passengers wait for the doors to reopen. Is there a word for that silence?

To confess the corn or acknowledge the corn is to admit that you are, or were, drunk.

A former copydesk chief points out the circular nature of dictionaries using citations from newspapers that in turn consult dictionaries and the AP Styleguide for questions of usage.

A lunch hook, in college slang from a century ago, meant "a hand"--as in, "I'm going to hook my finger through this doughnut hole."

We're so jaded by the clickbait titles directing us to sites like Upworthy that the site Downworthy is doing something about it. And imagine what it'd be like if serious literature got the same treatment.

To belt out a song onstage probably derives from the idea of belting your opponent in the boxing ring.

There's no hard-set rule about whether to capitalize the phrase To Whom It May Concern, though it may also be worth figuring out who you're addressing, and writing to them instead.

Did your teacher ever make you write a sentence over and over as punishment? That task is called a pensum.

A Somerville, Massachusetts, listener wonders about a phrase her family uses, freeze your caboogies off.  Its origin is unknown, and it's unclear whether it's related to another term for the backside, bahookie.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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The Big Cheese - 10 February 2014


Sun, Feb 09, 2014


Is it time to replace the expression "the mentally ill"? Some argue that it's is stigmatizing and doesn't reflect the diversity of the human condition. And why do we say "put on your shoes and socks"? After all, it's your socks that go on first. Plus, why do we call a powerful person "the big cheese"? The answer has nothing to do with dairy products. Also, skitching, epizootics, horse kickles, nimrods, who vs. that, and Turkish proverbs.

FULL DETAILS

A father of five shared with us his kids' favorite joke even. (And yes, it's terribly corny.)

Calling a hotshot the big cheese comes from the word chiz, which in both Persian and Urdu means "thing."

Don't try this at home, but the winter pastime of grabbing a car's rear bumper and getting dragged along an icy road is called skitching.

A Turkish proverb about listening and paying attention: To one who understands, a mosquito is a lute. To one who does not understand, a drum and zurna are little.

Is it okay to say the person that did it, or should you say the person who did it? Both are fine, although who is probably preferable in that it acknowledges that person's humanity.

Our groovy Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a quiz about the language of the 1960's, updated for the Me Generation.

How did Nimrod, the name of a mighty hunter and a great grandson of Noah, come to mean a lamebrain idiot?

Smoking cigars is such an attractive act, it's sometimes known as herfing.

A caller thinks he once heard a word that means "attracted to shiny objects." The best we can do is neophilia.

Put on your shoes and socks. Born and bred. Lock and load. The reason that the words in these phrases are illogically ordered probably has something to do with the way one forms vowels in the mouth. If you think too hard about these terms, they start to look preposterous, the etymology of which has to do with putting things in the wrong order as well.

The mentally ill is a phrase that some observers think should be replaced.

The word whatnot has seen a resurgence in the last few years, especially on Twitter and whatnot.

With all its specialized notation and rules and means of expressing ideas, is it correct to say that chemistry is a language?

Another Turkish proverb along the lines of chickens and hatching: Do not roll up your trousers before reaching the stream.

You might want to check once a month for the imaginary ailment, the epizootic. You'd know it if you saw it—it's like the horse kickles, but you don't break out.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

--

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By the Seat of Your Pants - 3 February 2014


Sun, Feb 02, 2014


Dude! We're used to hearing the word "dude" applied to guys. But increasingly, young women use the word "dude" to address each other. Grant and Martha talk about linguistic research about the meaning and uses of "dude." Also, the story behind the term "eavesdropping." Originally, it referred to the act of standing outside someone's window. Plus: by and large, by the seat of your pants, drawing room, snowhawk, Netflix o'clock, glegged up, quarry, and that's all she wrote.

FULL DETAILS

You have 30 cows, and 28 chickens. How many didn't? (Yep, that's the riddle: How many didn't?)

Back in the 1930s, airplane pilots didn't have sophisticated instruments to tell them which way was up. When flying through clouds, they literally relied on changes in the vibrations in their seat to help them stay on course, flying by the seat of their pants. The phrase later expanded to mean "making it up as you go along."

The idiom by and large, an idiom commonly known to mean "in general," actually combines two sailing terms. To sail by means you're sailing into the wind. To sail large, means that you have the wind more or less at your back. Therefore, by and large encompasses the whole range of possibilities.

After a long day of work, you settle in to binge-watch House of Cards, only to discover that everyone else in your time zone wants to watch the same thing, bogging down the Netflix stream. That's Netflix o'clock.

Looking glegged up, with staring into space with the mouth agape, comes from glegged, which shows up in some old dialect dictionaries meaning "to look askance."

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a puzzle about subtracting letters from words.

The term eavesdropping arose from the practice of secretly listening to conversations while standing in the eavesdrip, the gap between houses designed to keep rain dripping off one roof and onto the next.

That strip of snow that you can't quite reach down the middle of your car roof? That's a carhawk, since it looks like a mohawk of snow.

Our American Cousin, the farce being performed when President Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre, had some choice lines of bumpkin talk. One of them, "You sockdologizing old man-trap!," was the play's biggest laugh line, after which John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal shot.

How about this riddle? A man leaves home. He goes a little ways and turns a corner. He goes a while and turns another corner. Soon, he turns one more corner. As he's returning home, he sees two masked men. Who are they?

Research shows that dude, once associated exclusively with males, is now often used in the vocative sense when addressing groups or individuals, including females.

Drawing room, known for people taking turns about it, is short for withdrawing room, as in, withdrawing from the dining room while it's being prepped or cleaned.

Of all the ways to propose to your girlfriend, one way to do it is by tattooing her name and the words Will you marry me? above your knee.

Cute, which comes from acute, once meant "shrewd and perceptive"--"sharp," in other words--rather than "adorable."

"The Quarry," a famous painting of a buck carcass by Gustave Courbet, is a hint to another definition of quarry: the guts of an animal given to dogs after a hunt.

An Apache proverb: It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand.

That's all she wrote, a reference to old Dear John letters, pops up in this song by Ernest Tubb.

How do sports idioms translate to other languages in cultures where the sport isn't popular?

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

--

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How America Talks - 27 January 2014


Sun, Jan 26, 2014


For language lovers, it's like New Year's, Fourth of July, and the Super Bowl all rolled into one: The brand-new online edition of the Dictionary of American Regional English. Martha and Grant explain what all the fuss is about. Plus, the debate over that meal in a glass container: some call it a hot dish, while others say it's a casserole. And just when did we start using the terms boyfriend and girlfriend? Also in this episode: painters and artists, vaping, chamber pots, the lucky phrase rabbit, rabbit, and a news quiz in limericks!

FULL DETAILS

Language lovers, rejoice! The Dictionary of American Regional English is now available online. This massive collection of regional words and phrases across the United States requires a subscription, but 100 sample entries, including sound recordings, are available for browsing. 

What do you call it when a cop is on the road so everyone slows down? A Tallahassee, Florida, listener suggests the term cop clot.

There are plenty of fish in the sea, but beware the catfish when trawling online. To catfish, from the 2010 documentary of the same name, has come to mean misrepresenting yourself online or instigating a hoax of a relationship.

The terms boyfriend and girlfriend came into common use in the late 1800's.

Why do we say get out of my bathtub when we're in sync on a playground swing with the person next to us? Listeners suggest that maybe it's because you're swinging "in sink."

If you've kept up with the news these past few months, you're set for our Quiz Guy John Chaneski's News Limerick Challenge.

Is there a difference between a hotdish (or hot dish) and a casserole? Here's the science: hotdish can refer to the same thing as a casserole, but not every casserole is a hotdish.

Bae, as in baby, came into vogue via the bae caught me slippin meme—a selfie that's meant to look as if one's sweetheart actually snapped the picture.

Would you call an artist who paints a painter, or does painter only apply to a technician, like one who paints houses?

Kurt Vonnegut on scathing book reviews: "Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae."

Among some speakers of English, saying rabbit, rabbit before saying anything else on the first morning of the first day of the month supposedly ensures good luck for the next four weeks. Other versions include white rabbits and just rabbits. If you forget and say something else before you say it, you can always say tibbar, tibbar (rabbit, rabbit spelled backwards) just before going to bed.

Thanks to the fatberg—a 15-ton blob of fat and grease found in a London sewer—the -berg suffix lives on.

The Dictionary of American Regional English offers these alternative words for doughnut: friedcake, twister, floater, sinker, finger, and chokerhole.

Not bad—which, like many phrases, sounds cool when you say it with an English accent—is an example of litotes, or an understatement used for effect.

The Dictionary of American Regional English has many terms for practical jokes played on newbies, like sending someone out for a bucket of steam, or for pigeon milk, or for a nickel's worth of dimes.

The small of the back--the part of one's lower back where the spine curves in--is so called because it's the narrowest point. When Vladimir Nabokov wrote about that in English, he borrowed the sexy French word ensellure.

White owl, whispering kettle and slop jar are all dialectal terms for the chamber pot, the container kept under the bed before indoor plumbing became common.

In the American South, a sirsee, also spelled sursie, sussie, surcy, or circe, is a small, impromptu gift. It may derive from word surprise.

To vape, meaning "to smoke an electronic cigarette," is among the words included on Grant's tenth annual Words of the Year List for The New York Times.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

--

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Polyglot Problems (Rebroadcast) - 20 January 2014


Mon, Jan 20, 2014


This week on "A Way with Words": Say you're in line at the drugstore. Does it bother you if the cashier says, "Next guest"? In department stores and coffeeshops, does the term "guest" suggest real hospitality -- or just an annoying edict from corporate headquarters?

And speaking of buzzwords, has your boss adopted the trendy term "cadence"?  Also: words made up to define emotions, like "intaxication." That's the euphoria you get when you receive your tax refund--that is, until you remember it was your money to begin with. Plus, wide-awake hats, cheap-john, the problems of polyglots, and the many meanings of dope.


FULL DETAILS

Emotions can be hard to define. That's why there's The Emotionary, a collection of words made up specifically to capture emotions in a single word, like "intaxication" -- the euphoria of getting a tax refund--until you realize the money was yours to start with.

Jeff from Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, wants to know if he's wrong to say, I'm going over Martha's house, meaning "I'm going over to Martha's house." He's always left out the word to from that phrase. His wife argues that he's implying that he's going to fly over the person's house. The expression going over, as opposed to going over to, is a case of locative prepositional deletion, which occurs when we take out a preposition when talking about direction or destination. This particular version sometimes occurs in Massachusetts, where, as it happens, Jeff grew up.

So you think you hate puns? Wait until you hear this item from a Singapore newspaper about a Japanese banking crisis.

Every tub on its own bottom suggests that every person or entity in a group should be self-sufficient. This idiom, often abbreviated to ETOB, is common in academic speech to mean that each department or school should be responsible for raising its own funds. But the phrase goes back at least 400 years, when a tub meant the cask or barrel for wine. The metaphor of a tub on its own bottom appears in religious texts from the 1600s, referring to a foundation to which one should adhere.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski shares a game called Just O.K. Take a word, add the letters O and K, then transpose the letters to form a new word. For example, what froggy word could you form by adding an O and a K to the word car?
 
The terms anyhoo, or anywho, signaling a conversational transition, are simply variants of anyhow, and originated in Ireland.

The term cheap-john can refer to a miserly fellow, and also to a pawnbroker's shop.

If your boss drives you crazy with the word cadence, you're not alone. This business buzzword, referring to steady, efficient scheduling, was popularized in the 90s after IBM published a paper about sales called Chaos to Cadence. And you know how synergistic the business world is—sooner or later, everyone will be utilizing it!

Those soft felt hats that folks like the guy on the Quaker oatmeal box wear? They're called wide-awakes. The etymology of this term is actually a pun--a reference to the fact that they're made out of smooth material that has no nap!

What exactly is dope? Over time, it's meant marijuana, heroin, steroids, butter, coffee, drugs given to racehorses, and myriad other substances affecting the recipient in some excitable way. The term didn't come to mean marijuana until the '40s, and if you were born before 1970s, chances are you'd think stoned means drunk.

Amanda Kruel from Knoxville, Tennessee, wrote to say that ten years after learning French, she was studying German and her mind would jump from German to French, instead of English, when she was at a loss for a word. This is known as faulty language selection, and it happens to a lot of polyglots. A Florida community-college professor blogging at Sarah on Sabbatical has a nice roundup of research on the topic. She relates her own experience of working in a hotel in Bavaria and not being able to translate to French for some tourists, even though she spoke French.

What's the difference between addicting and addictive? Not much, although addictive is the older term. Grant suggests that addicting is more about a quality of the person being affected, whereas if something's addictive, that's an inherent property of the substance itself. So if you can't log off of Netflix, you'd say that Netflix is addicting.

When you have to ask someone to repeat themselves three times and you still can't figure out what they're saying, you may as well feignderstand, or pretend to understand. It's yet another made-up term from The Emotionary.

Jerry from New York City is annoyed that clerks in his local drug store and coffee shop baristas refer to him not as a customer, or a patron, but as a guest. He thinks guest sounds contrived, and should be reserved for hoteliers and the like. Well, Disney's been using guest since the 70s, and more and more businesses are following suit.

Need a word for the cheerful but futile advice one offers despite knowing that the recipient's efforts might not pan out? Try floptimism.

Mike from St. Augustine, Florida, wants to know about a family expression quicker than Goody's moose? It's actually a variation of quicker than Moody's goose, which in turn comes from a 19th Irish saying involving a "Mooney's goose." No one's sure who Mooney was.

Here's a traditional Irish saying about someone who's cheap: He'd skin a louse and send the hide and fat to market.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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Ride the Merry-Go-Round (Rebroadcast) - 13 January 2014


Mon, Jan 13, 2014


A pint-sized mad scientist, a green-haired girl with a contagious sense of wonder, and a 10-year-old detective. They're all characters in the books on Grant's latest list of recommended books for children. Also, what's the word for a female octopus? How about a male kangaroo? A colorful book for younger kids has those answers and more. And the debate over "on accident" versus "by accident": Which one you use probably depends on how old you are. Plus, if you hop on a merry-go-round, are you moving clockwise or counterclockwise? The answer depends on which side of the pond you're on.


FULL DETAILS

Tuna may be the chicken of the sea, but octopi, lobsters and crabs are the hens. That is, the females of each those species is called a hen. Aaron Zenz's lovely book for children I Love Ewe: An Ode to Animal Moms offers a little lesson about female names in the animal kingdom. He does the same for the males of the species in Hug a Bull: An Ode to Animal Dads.

Holy wha, a Yooper corruption of wow, is specific to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Evidently, it comes in handy when spotting a bear.

An adult male cat is called a tom. What's the female called? A queen.

Martha Geiger of Sacramento, California, says her French teacher told her that the difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round is that one goes clockwise and the other counterclockwise. True? Actually, there's really no difference between the names, although in England and much of Europe, these rides usually go clockwise; in the U.S., it's the opposite. And to some Americans, a merry-go-round is simply that spinning playground fixture for kids.

Alex Zobler from Stamford, Connecticut, sent along this joke: Knock knock. Who's there? To. To who? You see where this one's going, right?

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski phones in a game of homophones. For example, what two-word phrase could either be described as a redundant way to name a common crop, or a seasonal attraction at state fairs?

Lauren from La Crescenta, California, says her 98-year-old grandfather uses a rather obscure saying. As a kid, if Lauren or her sister won a meaningless contest, he'd award them an imaginary prize he called the crocheted gidote. Or maybe that's gadoty, or gadote, guhdody, or gadodie -- we've never seen the term before. Similar phrases include You win the crocheted teapot and You win the crocheted bicycle, all suggesting winning a prize that's as useless as, say, a chocolate teapot.

A high-school English teacher asks which is correct: It happened on accident, or It happened by accident? A survey by linguist Leslie Barratt at Indiana State University indicates that most people born after 1990 use on accident, and weren't even aware that by accident was proper, while those born before 1970 almost always say by accident.

An adult male opossum is called a jack, while the female's called a jill. A baby opossum is simply known as cute.

A Dallas listener says that if someone's moving especially slowly, his co-worker exclaims It's like dead lice dripping off you! This phrase, found in Southern and African-American literature from the early 20th century, probably reflects the idea that the person is moving so slowly that they're already dead and any lice on them have starved to death.
 
As composer and writer H.I. Phillips has observed, Oratory is the art of making deep noises from the chest sound like important messages from the brain.

Grant offers of a list of children's books he's been enjoying with his six-year-old son: Yotsuba&!, the energetic and curious Manga character, Pippi Longstocking, Calvin and Hobbes, the mad scientist Franny K. Stein, and the venerable Encyclopedia Brown.

Why are distances at sea measured in knots? In the 1500s, sailors would drop a chip log off the side of the boat and let out the rope for about thirty seconds, counting how many knots on the rope went out. Eventually, one knot came to mean one nautical mile per hour. Incidentally, this same log gave us logbook, weblog, and ultimately, blog.

A female sheep is an ewe, a goat is a nanny, but what's a female kangaroo? A flyer.

The word chow, as in chow hall or chow down, goes back to the British presence in Chinese ports during the 1700s. Chow chow was a pidgin term referring to a mixed dish of various foods, namely whatever was on hand. The joke was that it often contained dog, which is the same joke behind our encased sausage scraps known as hot dogs.

Why do we measure the sea in knots? Why, to keep the ocean tide!

Although a few sticklers cling to the traditional pronunciation of short-lived with a long i, the vast majority of Americans now pronounce short-lived with a short i. Long live the latter, we say.

Does and bucks are female and male deer, respectively. But what do you call female and male gerbils. Why, they're does and bucks, too.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

--

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Bouncy House of Language (Rebroadcast) - 6 January 2014


Mon, Jan 06, 2014


SUMMARY

Some people proudly embrace the label cancer survivor, while others feel that's not quite the right word. Is there a better term for someone who's battled cancer? Writers and listeners share the best sentence they've read all day. Plus, koofers and goombahs, Alfred Hitchcock and MacGuffins, why we put food in jars but call it canning, and why ring the door with your elbow means BYOB.

FULL DETAILS

Ever read a sentence that's so good, you just have to look up from the page to let it sink in? Grant offers one from Ezra Pound: "The book should be a ball of light in one's hands."

When someone says, He didn't lick that off the grass, it means he's inherited a behavior from relatives or picked it up from those around them. This phrase is particularly common in Northern Ireland.

Don't bother showing up to a party unless you're ringing the doorbell with your elbow. In other words, BYOB.

Brian from Edison, New Jersey, is pondering this linguistic mystery: The Mid-Atlantic convenience store chain Wawa has a goose as its logo. The Algonquin term for "goose" is wawa, and the French for "goose" is oie, pronounced "wah." Is there a connection between the French and Native American terms? It's probably just another example from a long list of linguistic coincidences resulting from the limited amount of vocal sounds we can make.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska invites us to play Categorical Allies, a game of two-word pairs where the last two letters of the first word lend themselves to the start of the second, and both words fit into one category. For example, what word might follow the name Job? Or the title A Christmas Carol?

Say you've been busy all semester throwing a Frisbee and drinking juice out of a funnel, and now it's finals week. How are you going to study? Just get yourself a koofer! These old tests, which some universities keep around in their libraries, can be great guides in prepping for a current test. Virginia Tech alums claim the term originated there in the early 1940s. In any case, many universities now have koofers, and many are available online at koofers.com.

Why do we call it canning if we're putting stuff in glass jars? The answer has to do with when the technique was discovered. The process of canning came about in the late 1700s, when thin glass jars were used. Factories soon switched to metal cans because they were durable and better for shipping. But after Mason jars came about in the mid-1800s, the process of preserving things at home kept the name canning.

Sam Anderson, a writer for The New York Times Magazine, tweets the best sentence he reads each day, like this from D.H. Lawrence describing the affection of Italians: "They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips."

Should people living with cancer be referred to as cancer survivors? Mary from Delafield, Wisconsin, a breast cancer survivor herself, doesn't like the term. Nor does Indiana University professor emerita Susan Gubar, who discusses this in an eloquent New York Times blog post. Many people living with cancer feel that the word survivor, which came into vogue in the early 90s, now seems inadequate. Some argue that having cancer shouldn't be their most important identifying feature. Others suggest calling themselves contenders or grits. Have a better idea?

Kevin Whitebaum of Oberlin, Ohio, has a favorite sentence from P.D. James's A Taste for Death: "The original tenants had been replaced by the transients of the city, the peripatetic young, sharing three to a room; unmarried mothers sharing social security; foreign students—a racial mix which, like some human kaleidoscope, was continually being shaken into new and brighter colours."

A while back, we talked about ishpy, a popular word among Nordic immigrants meaning something that a child shouldn't touch or put in their mouth. It turns out that lots of listeners with ancestors from Norway and Denmark know the term ishpy, along with ishie poo, ishta, and ish, all having to do with something disgusting or otherwise forbidden.

When is it okay to correct someone's grammar? Grant offers two rules: Correct someone only if they've asked you to, or if they're paying you to. Otherwise, telling someone they should've used I instead of me is just interrupt the conversation for no good reason.

Nick Greene, web editor for The Village Voice, tweeted, "Modern society's greatest failing has been letting Application defeat Appetizer in the War For What Can Be Called an App." There's always antipasti.

Goombah, sometimes spelled goomba, is a term for Italian-Americans that's sometimes used disparagingly. Physicians use the same word for the blobs on CT scans indicating a possible tumor, but this sense probably derives from the evil mushrooms in Super Mario Bros., known as goombas. The game was released in 1986, right about the same time that doctors picked up the term.

Here's a great sentence by Phil Jackson, tweeted by writer Sam Anderson: "I was 6'6" in high school ... arms so long I could sit in the backseat of a car and open both front doors at the same time."

A MacGuffin isn't the name of a breakfast sandwich, but it could be -- that is, if a movie involves characters trying to get that sandwich. The MacGuffin, also spelled McGuffin or maguffin, is any object in a film that drives the story forward, like the secret papers or the stolen necklace. Alfred Hitchcock made the MacGuffin famous, and explained it this way in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: "It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers. We just try to be a little more original."

Judy Schwartz from Dallas, Texas, sent us the best sentence she read all day. It's from William Zinsser's On Writing Well: "Clutter is the disease of American writing." Have a sentence that stopped you in your tracks? Send it our way.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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On the Shoe Phone (Rebroadcast) - 30 December 2013


Mon, Dec 30, 2013


First names like "Patience," "Hope," and "Charity" are inspired by worthy qualities. But how about "Be-courteous" or "Hate-evil"? The Puritans sometimes gave children such names hoping that their kids would live up to them. Also, even some feminists are discarding the name "feminist." Plus, reticent vs. reluctant, sherbet vs. sherbert, mosquitoes vs. lawyers, and a word for that feeling in your toes after a great kiss.

FULL DETAILS

Patience, Hope, and Charity are pretty ambitious things to name your children. But what about Hate-evil, Be-courteous, or Search-the-scriptures? Or Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith? Puritan parents sometimes gave their kids so as to encourage those qualities. They're called hortatory names, from the Latin for "encourage" or "urge."

What's the difference between a mosquito and a lawyer? One's a bloodsucking parasite, and the other's an insect. This bait-and-switch joke, like many good paraprosdokians, get their humor by going contrary to our expectations.

A debate has been raging within the Conductors Guild. Should that organization's name have an apostrophe? Most board members contend that for simplicity and clarity, the name should go without an apostrophe. The hosts concur.

That thing when someone kisses you so well that your toes curl up? It's called a foot pop.

Is it incorrect to say I could use a drink rather than I want a drink? A California man says his Italian partner claims this use of use is incorrect. It may be a verbal crutch, but it's still correct English.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska feeds us a game of spoonerisms, or rhyming phrase pairs where the first sounds are swapped. For example, what do a stream of information in 140 characters and a better tailored suit have in common? Or how about a Michael Lewis book about baseball and a shopping destination for rabbits?

A caller from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, says that cops in Canada will often say to contact them on their shoe phones. The shoe phone comes from Maxwell Smart, the hapless hero of the 1960s sitcom Get Smart, who kept a phone on the sole of his shoe. The phrase has now come to refer to any surreptitiously placed phone.

Before the days of the Square, vendors had to run a credit card through rough, bulky machine called a knucklebuster that had the capacity to do just that.

Order in the court, the monkey wants to speak, the first one to speak is a monkey for a week! This children's rhyme appears in print in the 1950s, and Israel Kaplan mentions it in When I Was a Boy in Brooklyn, his take on growing up in New York in the 20s and 30s. Many of his rhymes were less tame.

The poet Marianne Moore was once asked to come up with car names for the Ford Motor Company, and if it wasn't for the genius of their own term, the Edsel, we could've been driving around in Resilient Bullets, Varsity Strokes, or Utopian Turtletops.

The term vegan was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, the founder of the U.K. Vegan Society, who insisted that the original pronunciation was VEE-gin. However, some dictionaries now allow for other pronunciations, such as VAY-gin or even VEDJ-in.

If a phone in your shoe or your glasses isn't futuristic enough for you, check out morphees. They're smartphones and handheld gaming devices that can bend and change shapes.

Is it time for feminists to ditch the label feminist? Women's studies professor Abigail Rine is among those struggling with that question. She argues that conversations about feminist issues are often held up by discussions about the label itself, and its negative connotations in particular. Meanwhile, some are trying to replace the word patriarchy with kyriarchy, from the Greek for "lord" or "master" (as in Kyrie Eleison, or "Lord, have mercy) since matters of discrimination don't just fall along gender lines.

Sherbet is pronounced SHUR-bit. There's no r before the t, and there's no need to add one. If it still seems too complicated, you might just order ice cream or sorbet instead.

Noah Webster originally tried changing the spelling of hard ch words to begin with k, as in karacter, but the shift never caught on, as is usually the case with spelling reforms.

Is there a difference between reticent and reluctant? Reticent more specifically involves reluctance to speak--it comes from the Latin root meaning "silent," and is a relative of the word tacit--whereas you can be reluctant to do anything.

Say you're a novelist working on your magnum opus. While you're shuffling through the produce aisle, an idea strikes you and you can't stop thinking about it. That's what they call a plot bunny.

Lori from Swansboro, North Carolina, wonders about pure-T mommicked, which in many parts of the South and South Midlands means "confused." Its sense of "harrass, tease, impose upon" is particularly common in North Carolina. It apparently derives from the verb mammock, meaning to tear into pieces, actually shows up in Shakespeare's Coriolanus. The pure-T is a variant of pure-D, a euphemism for pure damned.

This past spring was a cold one, wasn't it? Some have taken to calling it February 90th.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

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Thrown for a Loop - 23 December 2013


Sun, Dec 22, 2013


We all lead busy lives--so are speed reading courses a good idea? Plus, if you hear someone speaking with a British accent, do you tend to assume they're somehow more intelligent? And some common English surnames tell us stories about life in the Middle Ages. Plus, a 29-letter word for the fear of the number 666, games and riddles, military brats, knocked for a loop, the first dirty word, and book recommendations for math lovers.

FULL DETAILS

What do you call it when you're out in public with friends but they're all staring at their own cell phones? A listener from Santa Monica, California, suggests that the word techgether.

Are speed reading classes a waste of time? Not if you want to skim instead of read.

A Kentucky cross-country runner had a case of hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, or fear of the number 666.

After you notice a certain word for the first time, chances are you'll start seeing it all over the place. That's known as the frequency illusion, coined by linguist Arnold Zwicky, and it happens because of confirmation bias.

What has two hookers, two lookers, four stiff-standers, four diddledanders, and a wig wag?

Quiz Guy John Chaneski have a game matching people with their animal kingdom counterparts.

Is the term military brat a pejorative?

Many common English surnames--such as Taylor, Miller, Shoemaker, Smith, and many others--tell a story about life in the Middle Ages. Two good books on the study of names, also known as onomastics, are The Surname Detective and a Dictionary of English Surnames.

"The face of a child can say it all. Especially the mouth part of the face." That deep thought is brought to you by Jack Handy.

The plural of moose is moose. The word's roots are in the name of the animal in the Algonquian language Abenaki.

Listeners who grew up playing the children's game Duck Duck Gray Duck insist that this Minnesota version of Duck Duck Goose is more complicated and therefore more fun.

Why do so many Americans think British accents automatically connote intelligence?

In parts of the South, it's not uncommon to end a sentence about a dilemma with the word one, short for one or the other, as in I'm going to quit my job or get fired, one.

How did the first person to say a dirty word know it was a dirty word? Geoffrey Hughes' Encyclopedia of Swearing is a great source on this.

For the math lovers out there: Listeners on our Facebook page recommend Fermat's Enigma and In Pursuit of The Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed The World.

The idiom thrown for a loop most likely derives from boxing and the image of someone knocked head over heels.

A riddle: What runs over fields and woods all day, under the bed at night sits not alone with its tongue out, waiting for a bone?

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

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Sexy Prunes - 16 December 2013


Sun, Dec 15, 2013


You're in a business meeting. Is it bad manners to take out phone to send or read a text? A new study suggests that how you feel about mid-meeting texting differs depending on your age and sex. Grant and Martha offer book recommendations for readers and writers on your gift list. And why do people from Boston sound the way they do? Plus, how translators translate, sky vs. skies, caboose vs. crummy, gentleman cows, orey-eyed, and an entire rap song without the letter E.

FULL DETAILS

A new study finds that 20-somethings think it's okay to text and read emails during meetings, and men are more likely than women to approve.

Orey-eyed, meaning "enraged," comes from the Scots language. Orey dates at least as far back as the 1700s, and has meant many different things, including "drunk,"

A TV meterologist in Morehead, Minnesota wonders about the word sky. Is it incorrect to use it in the plural? We often refer to the skies over a large area, as in the skies over Kansas.

This week's quiz from John Chaneski is a fill-in-the-blank game.

How do translators of literature decide which words to use? B.J. Epstein, a Chicago native now living in the UK, is a translator with an excellent blog on the subject called Brave New Words.

You think you look sexy saying Cheese! as a photographer snaps away? Better yet, try cooing Prunes!

Train conductors sometimes refer to the caboose as the crummy. The name may derive from the idea of crew workers leaving crumbs and other garbage all over the back of that last care. Gandy dancers are railroad maintenance workers whose synchronized movements while straightening tracks resemble dancing.

E.B. White knew a thing or two about artfully declining an invitation.

The word doppich means "clumsy or awkward" is used primarily in Southeastern and South Central Pennsylvannia, and goes back to a German word for the same. Another handy word with Pennsylvania Dutch roots: grex, also spelled krex, meaning "to complain." Speaking of the language of that area, Grant can't wait to get his hands on Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels.

For this year's holiday book recommendations, Grant goes with his son's current favorite, Valley Cats by Gretchen Preston, while Martha enthusiastically recommends Quack This Way, a transcribed conversation about writing and language between Bryan Garner and David Foster Wallace.

The stereotypical Boston accent is non-rhotic, meaning it drops the "r" sound. Before World War II, such lack of rhoticity was considered prestigious and was taught to film and radio actors to help them sound sophisticated.

Is it okay to use the term hospitalized? A journalist says a professor taught him never to use the term because it's unspecific and reflects laziness on the part of the writer.

Andrew Huang of Songs To Wear Pants To has met his listeners' challenge and written a rap song without the letter "E."

A caller from Amherst, Massachusetts, says that her grandmother, born in 1869, never called a bull a bull, but instead simply called it the animal. This kind of euphemism, along with gentleman cow, supposedly helped avoid the delicate topic of the bull's role in breeding.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

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Not Quite a Boyfriend - 9 December 2013


Mon, Dec 09,
04:20:00 2013, +0000


If an older man and woman spend lots of time together, going to family gatherings and the like, but they're NOT dating, what do you call their relationship? Best friends? Dear friends? Or . . . something else? And a marathon runner who's crossed 31 states on foot talks about the odd phrases people use when giving directions. Plus, handegg, victuals and vittles, nernees and farsees, take a decision vs. make a decision, and the growing popularity of text tattoos.


FULL DETAILS

When it comes to tattoos, passages of text are an increasingly popular alternative to images.

The word victuals is pronounced like "vittles" and refers to cooked foods and shares a Latin root with vitamin and vitality. Sometimes it's spelled vittles, a form often associated with more informal or rustic speech.

If you pass by a place, does that mean you go into it? Or do you go past it? An Australian caller and his American ex-girlfriend disagreed. In parts of the English-speaking world, the phrase pass by is one in a long list of synonyms for "visit," along with drop by, come round, and go by.

While in Canada, Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins, encountered the term keener, meaning "enthusiast."

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski sorts out the hosts with a puzzle about book categories on Amazon.com.

When an older man and woman spend lots of time together, going to family gatherings and the like, but they're not dating, what do you call that relationship? Best friends? Dear friends?

Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn has been mulling how to classify the term BBQ, since the Q reflects sound, not an initial. It's a type of abbreviation called clipping. BBQ goes back to restaurant signs and menus from the 1930's where space was at a premium.

What do you say when someone stands between you and the television? Some people say, Were you drinking muddy water? Another option: I can't see through your bay window!

The term less-than, often written in quotation marks, is an increasingly common way to denote status inequality, especially when it comes to gender.

Oh, the agony of nernees, those little pieces of plastic or metal that seem to have no purpose. Only until you throw them out will you realize how essential they were! This slang term is sometimes used among those who work in technical theater.

Brian Stark, who calls himself the States Runner, has crossed 31 states on foot. He phones from Arizona to discuss the funny ways people in different regions give directions when he's lost. A West Virginian once told him his destination was six farsees away, meaning "go as far as you can see, then go as far as you can see from there, and do that a total of six times."

A listener in Taiwan reports that if someone knocks when you're in public restroom there,  the customary response is to knock back!

Do you take a decision or make a decision? Generally, Americans make decisions, while the British may do either. Take and make in this situation are what are known as light verbs, meaning they don't add much to the sentence, since you could just as easily use the word decided.

Joyce, in Azle, Texas, say her grandmother used to exclaim, That just beats a goose a- gobblin'! whenever something awed or frustrated her.

Outside the United States, American football is sometimes jokingly called handegg--a reference to the shape of the ball and the fact that it's carried in the hands.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

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Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

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Got Your Six (Rebroadcast) - 2 December 2013


Mon, Dec 02, 2013


Starting this year, Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants not only have to spell words correctly. A controversial new rule means they'll have to answer vocabulary questions, too. Also, when it comes to reading text, do you prefer "paper" or "plastic"? Some research suggests that comprehension is slightly better when you read offline instead of on a screen. And the term winkle out, plus bike slang, the military origin of I've got your six, why the word awfully isn't awful, and where you'll find onion snow.

FULL DETAILS

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, long beloved for its youngsters stammering out words like appoggiatura, is about to change this year, when they're also forced to define words like appoggiatura. Officials added two rounds of computerized vocabulary tests to the early rounds of the tournament. In some circles, though, this new rule spells C-O-N-T-R-O-V-E-R-SY.

If someone's got your six, it means they've got your back. This expression comes from the placement of numbers on an analog clock, and appears to have originated with military pilots.

Is there such thing as a half a hole? Most holes are whole holes, but even half holes are whole holes, if you think about it. In any case, it's a fun conundrum, sort of like asking someone if they're asleep. Children's book author Robert McCloskey had some fun with a similar idea in a little ditty in one of his Homer Price stories.

Michel de Montaigne once wrote, "A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears." This is a classic example of chiasmus, or a reversal of clauses that together make a larger point.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska takes a break from his music career to bring us a game called Initia-rithmetic. For example, if he says there are 4 P's depicted on M.R., what do those initials stand for? The answer to that one is, you might say, monumental.

Lesley Tweedie from Chicago, Illinois, owns a bike shop, and shares some slang from her workplace. A boomerang bike is one of those bikes that goes out the door and comes back 20 minutes later for another repair. JRA refers to those instances when someone was just riding along when something broke down. And a bikeochondriac is someone who comes in claiming there's something wrong with it, but the wrench (a bike mechanic) just can't find the problem.

When someone's fly is down, do you say XYZ for "Examine your zipper"? For a change of pace, you might try another euphemistic expression used the Southern United States and South Midlands: Is your finger sore? As in, Is your finger too sore to zip up your pants?

What Americans call a cold draft, the British call a cold draught. Noah Webster deserves most of the responsibility for changing the British spelling. Regardless of how they're spelled, both words rhyme with "daft," not "drought."

In parts of Pennsylvania, a late-spring dusting of light snow is called onion snow. It's a reference to the way little green onion shoots are poking through the white.

Is an iPad just a magazine that doesn't work? The now-classic video of a child thumbing over a magazine to no effect comes to mind given a recent article in Scientific American about our comprehension of things read on e-readers as opposed to printed books. As it turns out, we retain slightly more when reading a real book.

Awfully might seem like an awful choice for a positive adverb, as in awfully talented, but it makes sense given the history of awful. Once intended to mean filled with awe, it's now a general intensifier. The process of semantic weakening has meant that awfully, along with terribly and horribly, has become synonymous with the word very. Actually, the word very went through a similar process. Very derives from Latin verus, "true," and is cognate with verify.

Amber from Berlin, New Hampshire, works in a prison, and wants to know why those ominous double sets of prison doors are called by the feminine-sounding name sallyport. Going back to the 1600s, a sallyport was a fortified entrance to a military structure. The name comes from Latin salire, meaning "to go out" or "to leave."

If something needs to be carefully extracted, you'll want to winkle it out. This Britishism comes from winkles, those edible snails that must be gingerly pulled out of their shells.

Keep the ishpee out of your mouth. One caller's parents used to shout Ishpee! when he or his siblings would try and eat dirt, marbles, or whatever they found on the floor. He wonders if this expression is unique to his family. It may be related to the exclamation Ish!, which is used particularly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, when encountering something really disgusting. Ish may derive from similar-sounding words expressions of disgust from Scandinavian languages.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Wet Brick - 25 November 2013


Sun, Nov 24, 2013


What the fox says may be a mystery, but we do know that dogs bark differently around the world. In China, for example, they say not bow-wow but wang wang.  Also, the story behind the British tradition of scrumping. It's not a middle school dance craze, and it has nothing to do with beer -- or does it? Plus, recipe vs. receipt, mash vs. press, housing a beer, all bollixed up, and empty heads make weary bones.

FULL DETAILS

What's an appropriate response when someone knocks on your bathroom stall? How about You can come in, but you can't sit down!

Scrumping is a Britishism for "stealing apples off your neighbors' trees."

Father Dominic from Chicago wonders when It's a thing became, well, a thing.

The word receipt is occasionally used a synonym for recipe, as in "a list of ingredients in a dish and instructions on how to make it." Both words come from the same Latin root, recipere, meaning "to receive." The use of receipt for recipe is old-fashioned and probably won't be around that much longer.

Listen closely for the phatic replacements in our Quiz Guy John Chaneski's game of idle chitchat.

Ballocks!, an exclamation of frustration or skepticism, is cognate with the word balls, and literally means "testicles." Its use is considered far more racy in Great Britain than in the United States.

How do you decide when to use a comma? One strategy is to read your writing aloud and decide what sounds best.

A new servant can catch a running deer is a proverb from Afghanistan that aptly describes those zealous recent hires.

Few things are slicker than snot on a doorknob.

Even one hair has a shadow. This translation of the Latin proverb Etiam capillus unus habet umbram is a reminder that even the smallest thing can have large consequences.

If someone's standing between you and the TV, you might ask them Have you been drinking muddy water?

To house something, as in to house a beer or to house a pizza, is slang for "consuming something really fast."

The Western Folklore Journal of 1976 gives us such romantic phrases as kisses like a cold fish, kisses like your brother through a screen, and kisses like a wet brick.

In China, dogs say Wang wang instead of woof woof. Wikipedia has a great list of such cross-linguistic onomatopoeias. Of course, we all know what the fox says.

Ever find yourself stuck behind someone who walks like he's behind a plow?

Empty heads make weary bones, so don't forget what you went looking for or you'll wind up exhausted for no reason!

To mash the brake or mash the elevator button comes from a Southern instance of mash meaning "to press something hard."

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
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Catbird Seat - 18 November 2013


Sun, Nov 17, 2013


Online recaps of Mad Men or Breaking Bad can be as much fun as the shows themselves. So why not recap classic literature -- like, say, Dante's Inferno? A literary website is doing just that. And, you've heard about the First World and the Third World -- so where in the world is the Second World? Plus, animal stories, including how the aardvark got three A's in its name, and why the catbird seat is the place to be. Also, the origins of crackerjack, mall, mad money, and the admonition you might want horns, but you're gonna die butt-headed!

FULL DETAILS

Shopping malls take their name from the fashionable street now known as Pall Mall in London's St. James area. The game of pall-mall, which involves hitting a ball with a wooden mallet, was once played there.

Listen up, Scrabble players! Zax is a real word that refers to a kind of roofing tool.

A small eating place where the food is not particularly good is sometimes called a grab-it-and-growl.

A crackerjack fellow is someone who's excellent or first-rate. It's most likely the same positive sense of crack found in terms like cracking good, crack team, and crack shot.

The idiom rob Peter to pay Paul, means "to borrow someone from someone in order to repay someone else." In Nicaragua, the same idea is expressed by a phrase that translates as take Juan's clothes to give them to Pedro.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game of phrases involving the letter B.

Mad money is the emergency cash a woman tucked away to get home safely if an evening out went badly. These days, it's largely been replaced by cell phones.

There's a First World and a Third World, but what about a Second World? The Soviet Bloc countries once made up the Second World, but these terms are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

In an earlier episode, we played a game in which we raised the ante on words with hidden "numbers" inside them. For example, forever became five-ever. Many listeners wrote to share Victor Borge's hilarious Inflationary Language video along the same lines.

The legendary baseball announcer Red Barber is credited with popularizing the term the catbird seat, the enviable position in poker where you're last to bet. James Thurber amusing story "The Catbird Seat" published in The New Yorker helped popularize it even further.

Name developer and language observer Nancy Friedman tweeted this curious tracking notice from UPS: "Your package has experienced an exception."

What do you say to the person next to you on the swings who's in sync with you? How about, Get out of my bathtub!

There's some great stuff out there on the web. Among our current favorites are Stan Carey's blog Sentence First, and The Paris Review, where they're recapping Dante's Inferno.

The animal called an aardvark takes its name from an Afrikaans term meaning "earth pig." The word is cognate with the English words earth and pork.

Meetup is an increasingly common substitute for meeting, especially when the gathering's meant to be less formal and attendance is optional.

About that inflationary language: Writing on our Facebook page, Jen Lynch inflated the word tuba, calling it a threeba.

You might want horns, but you're gonna die butt-headed! This expression derives from butt-headed, meaning "without horns," and shows up in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
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Jumped Up Bald-Headed - 11 November 2013


Mon, Nov 11, 2013


What do your pronouns say about your own psychological makeup? If you use the word I a lot, does it mean you're a leader . . . or a follower? A surprising study suggests that people of lower status in a group tend to use I the most. Also, a look at why businesses intentionally misspell the names of their products. Sometimes it's a smart marketing strategy -- and sometimes it's a necessity. Plus, bunt vs. butt, Duck Duck Gray Duck vs. Duck Duck Goose, alumnae vs. alumni, the silent s in island, throwing a wobbly, and Holy old jumping up baldheaded!

FULL DETAILS

Companies sometimes intentionally misspell a product's name in order to get customers' attention. These deliberate mistakes, such as Cheez Whiz, Krispy Kreme, and Froot Loops, are also called sensational spelling or divergent spelling.

Restekuchen, or baked goods made with leftover ingredients, are popular in Germany, where their name translates as "scrap cake."

From the Twitter feed of @anagramatron comes this apt pair of anagrams: Annoying kids all around me anagrams to I sound like an angry old man.

Turn the music down, it doesn't need to be on boydog! Have you heard this synonym for "the highest level"?

To throw a wobbly means lose self-control in a panic or temper tantrum, or to cause consternation by acting in a surprising way.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game about funny softball team names. For example, the real-life name of the Whitney Museum's employee softball team? Why, they're the Whitney Houstons, of course.

If you were stranded on a desert island, wouldn't you get to thinking how odd it is that we don't pronounce the s in island? It was added during the Renaissance in an attempt to make the word look more like its Latin source, insula.

Say cheese! isn't the only phrase photographers use to get people to smile. Sometimes French speakers ask the subject of a photo to say ouistiti, which means "marmoset." Omniglot has a collection of these terms from photographers around the world.

In Minnesota and some nearby states, the children's game Duck Duck Goose is known as Duck Duck Gray Duck.

When you follow up with someone you've not heard from in a while to let them know their email was hacked, you might call it a malware reunion.

The stitch in your side that results from laughing goes back to the thousand-year-old use of the verb stitch to refer to a sewing needle poking through something.

How wide are the gaps between your teeth? Wide enough to eat corn on the cob through a picket fence?

Contrary to what you might think, new research by psychologist James Pennebaker suggests that people who use the pronoun I a lot actually tend to occupy the lower status in a conversation. In addition, Pennebaker and his associates found that people who are lying tend to avoid speaking in the first-person singular.

Alumnae is the plural for a group of all-female former students, while alumni is the term for all-male groups, or co-ed groups. The male singular is alumnus, and the female is alumna. In informal settings, you can just use alum or alums.

The bunt, that deliberately short hit in baseball, was long interchangeable with butt, as in two rams butting heads.

Trust us, you don't want brown kitties. This dialectal term is another name for bronchitis.

Holy old jumping up baldheaded! is a colorful exclamation with ties to both Jesus of Nazareth and Gary Busey. (In Busey's case, the phrase was Holy Jumped-Up Baldheaded Jesus Palamino.)

Among some Spanish speakers, the slang phrase sacapuntas en huevos refers to someone so stubbornly persistent, they could sharpen an egg.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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I'll Be Your Boo - 4 November 2013


Sun, Nov 03, 2013


This week on "A Way with Words":  It's the language of Wisconsin: If you're nibbling on slippery Jims or sipping sweet soup, chances are you're in the Badger State. Also, the famous abolitionist whose name became an exclamation. And how to respond if someone says to you, "Well, aren't you the chawed rosin!" Plus, parking garages vs. parking ramps, trouper vs. trooper, my boo, and the possible origin of toodles.

FULL DETAILS

The robin may be the official State Bird of Wisconsin, but a listener from the Badger State shares a limerick about the unofficial state bird: the mosquito.

Boo and my boo are a terms of endearment common among African-Americans, going at least as far back as mid-90s jams like the Ghost Town DJ's' "My Boo."

In parts of Wisconsin, parking garages are called parking ramps.

The part of a church known as a foyer, vestibule, or lobby is sometimes called the narthex. This word appears to go back to the ancient Greek term for "fennel," although beyond that, its etymology is unclear.

What is sweet soup? It's a Wisconsin specialty, made of cherry or raspberry juice mixed with prunes, raisins, and tapioca, and served either warm or cold.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a twist on a challenge that's a favorite among members of the National Puzzlers League, the classic fill-in-the-blank game called The Flat.

The exclamations I'll be John Brown! and I'll be John Browned! have a sticky history, going back to view that the abolitionist John Brown was doing something damnable by arming a slave revolt.

Is the correct expression He's a real trouper or He's a real trooper? In its original form, the correct word was trouper, and referred to that the mantra of dedicated actors everywhere, The show must go on!

In Wisconsin, a slippery Jim is a kind of pickle.

A former waiter in Underhill, Vermont, is annoyed by restaurant patrons who respond to a server's query with I'm good rather than No, thank you when asked if they've had enough.

Among Sconnies, or Wisconsinites, a synonym for beer belly is Milwaukee goiter.

In parts of Wisconsin where the dialect is heavily influenced by German, it's not unusual to hear phrases, like Let's go buy some bakery for "let's buy some baked goods," and from little on up, meaning "from a young age."

I don't want nairn, meaning "I don't want any," is a contraction of never a one, and it's been used for hundreds of years.

Well, aren't you the chawed rosin! is a reference to the chewy sap of a gum tree, considered a sweet treat. It's used to refer to people who think highly of themselves, and is heard primarily in the South Midlands of the United States.

In Wisconsin, the game Mother, May I? goes by the name Captain, May I?

Toodles, meaning "See you later," may come from toddle, as in to "amble" or "take leave," or it might simply derive from the sound of an old car horn.

Christmas Fooling, the Norwegian tradition of dressing up and visiting folks around Christmas time, was once popular among young Wisconsinites.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

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Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

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Monkey's Wedding - 28 October 2013


Mon, Oct 28, 2013


It's the art of constructive feedback: If you're a teacher with a mountain of papers to grade, you may find yourself puzzling over which kinds of notes in the margins work best. Martha and Grant discuss strategies for effective paper-grading. And when your inbox is full of spam and LinkedIn requests, even a bad emailed joke starts to look good. Martha shares one, along with some riddles from Portuguese and Spanish. And that slithering reptile in the garage -- is it a garden snake, a gardener snake, or a garter snake? Plus, creek vs. crick, the origins of shank, rhubarb, and ping me, and the devil is beating his wife.

FULL DETAILS

If you have seven oranges in one hand and six in the other, what have you got? "Really big hands"--and a really bad joke.

When it's raining and sunny at the same time, Brazilians say there's a marriage between a fox and a nightingale, and South Africans say it's a monkey's wedding. Those images are far happier than an American phrase for the same meteorological phenomenon, the devil is beating his wife. In each case, the common thread seems to be that it's a supernatural occurrence.

When a jacket's been on the hanger too long, the shoulders get punched out, meaning they become distended. The same principle is behind the term butt-sprung, which describes a skirt that's distended by the wearer, and now applies to anything that's worn out.

The sportscaster Red Barber popularized the term rhubarb, meaning a scuffle on the baseball mound. It has now expanded to various kinds of arguments.

Try this riddle translated from Spanish: I come from singing parents but I'm not a singer, I have a white body and a yellow heart. What am I?

Attention Sue Grafton fans: A is for Amusing might be a good title for this week's puzzle from Quiz Guy John Chaneski.

A Florida State University professor is tired of writing the same comments over and over on student papers. He wonders about the most effective written feedback, and specifically, whether there's a better way to say a paragraph is particularly well-written or clearly written.

I went to Paris, I went to Egypt, I’ve been to New York, and I will be going to Rome. I do this by sitting in a corner. Who am I?

Is that serpent in the garage a garter snake, a garden snake, a gardener snake, or a mouse snake? All are apt names for the same snake, but the original is garter snake, which takes its name from the sartorial accessory.

A riddle in rhyme: What does a man love more than life /Fear more than death or mortal strife / What the poor have, the rich require /And what contented men desire / What the miser spends and the spendthrift saves/ And all men carry to their graves?

In the Northern Midwest, creek is often pronounced crick.

Slang lovers rejoice! Green's Dictionary of Slang is going online, along with an impressive timeline tracking slang involving alcohol.

Ping, as in ping me, meaning "contact me," comes from the onomatopoeic ping we get from technology such as sonar.

There's a word where the first two letters signify a male, the first three signify a female, the first four signify a great man, and the whole word means a great woman. Do you know it?

I know, right?! is a friendly way to acknowledge that you understand someone.

A riddle translated from Portuguese: Why is it that the bull climbs the hill?

A prison employee wants to know about the term shank, that name for sharp weapons made with toothbrushes and pieces of metal. It derives from shank in the sense of the type of animal bone historically used in weapon making.

The good thing about lending someone your time machine? You pretty much get it back immediately. "I know, right?!"

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
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Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Writerly Insults - 21 October 2013


Sun, Oct 20, 2013


This week on "A Way with Words": Sure, it's scary to send your writing to a literary agent. But pity the poor agent who must wade through hundreds of terrible query letters a week! One of them shares excerpts from those hilariously bad query letters on a blog called SlushPile Hell. And get ready for some colorful conversation: Purple cows do exist--only they're made with grape soda and ice cream. And yes, Virginia, there IS an English word that rhymes with "orange"!  Plus, catawampus, mesmerize, all's I'm saying, plus messing and gauming.

FULL DETAILS

A query letter from SlushPile Hell, the blog of a curmudgeonly literary agent, reads, "Have you ever wished you had represented the author of the Holy Bible and placed it with a publisher?" Erm, sure.

The exclamation Fiddlesticks!, meaning "a trifle" or "something insignificant or absurd," goes back to the time of Shakespeare. It endures in part because it's fun to say.

Dorothy Parker, known for her acerbic wit, was once described as a stiletto made of sugar.

What do you say when you're in a restroom and someone knocks on the door? Many people answer Ocupado!, which has made its way from bilingual signage--including old airline seat cards from the 1960's--to common speech.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski struts his stuff with a Miss Word beauty pageant for words beginning with mis-.

All's, as in the common clause all's you have to do, isn't grammatically incorrect.  It's a valid contraction of the archaic construction all as.

Another cocksure query letter received by the book agent at SlushPile Hell includes the line: "The writing is final, and I do not want it changed." Okay, then.

The idiom dead on, meaning "precisely," might sound morbid, but it makes sense. It's a reference to the fact that death is certain and absolute.

When someone's standing in front of the TV, do you shout, "Move over!" or something more creative? How about Your daddy weren't no glass maker, or You make a better door than a window.

Messing and gauming, meaning "dawdling and getting intro trouble," comes from gaum, a term for something sticky and smeary like axle grease or mud. A baby with schmutz all over his face is all gaumed up.

Oliver Goldsmith said of the lexicographer Samuel Johnson that there's no use arguing with him, because "when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it."

The term mesmerize, meaning to attract strongly or hold spellbound, comes from Franz Mesmer, the German doctor who purported to heal people by righting their internal magnetic forces.

Insure and ensure mean two different things now, but back when the U.S. Constitution was penned, they were interchangeable. Hence the line in the preamble to insure domestic tranquility.

Another overly optimistic query to the book agent at SlushPile Hell reads in part: "My dog has written a book on how to be a success."

Gelett Burgess famously wrote I never saw a purple cow, but plenty of folks know a purple cow to be a grape soda float.

There's a proper noun out there that rhymes with orange, and it's The Blorenge, a hill in Wales.

Catawampus, meaning "askew," can be spelled at least 15 different ways. It likely derives from the English word cater, meaning "diagonal. "

J.B. Priestley once described George Bernard Shaw as being so peevish, he refused to admire the Grand Canyon because "he was jealous of it."

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

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Mr. Can't Died - 14 October 2013


Mon, Oct 14, 2013


This week on "A Way with Words": You pick up what you think a glass of water and take a sip, but it turns out to be Sprite. What's the word for that sensation when you're expecting one thing and taste something else? Also, slang from college campuses, like "ratchet" and "dime piece." And the story of a writer who published her first novel at age 73, then went on to win a National Book Award. Plus, the origins of bluebloods, Melungeons, Calcutta bets, Vermont Cree-mees, and a handy phrase used to help buck someone up: Mr. Can't died in a cornfield.

FULL DETAILS

Is it a good thing to be ratchet? This slang term can refer to a bumpin' party or a girl who's a hot mess.

There's nothing like a refreshing gulp of water, unless what you thought was water turns out to be vodka or Sprite. When the expectation of what you'll taste gives way to surprise, shock, and offense, you've experienced what one listener calls cephalus offendo. You might also call it anticipointment.

The phrase I see you, meaning I acknowledge what you're doing, comes from performance, and pops up often in African-American performance rhetoric.

A listener from Charlottesville, Virginia, is dating a professional golfer who often plays a Calcutta with other tour members. Calcutta, a betting game going back over 200 years, involves every player betting before the tournament on who they think will finish with the lowest score. It was first picked up by the British in and around—you guessed it—Kolkata, also known as Calcutta.

When a term paper is due in 24 hours, there's no better tactic than to break open the Milano cookies and procrastineat.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game for the Mamas and the Papas, with two-word phrases beginning with the letters M-A- M-A- or P-A- P-A-

If you say you're not up to this or that challenge, someone might push you harder with the reminder Mr. Can't died in a cornfield. This old saying is particularly evocative if you've ever been stuck in a corn field, because it's easy to think you won't make it out. Another version of this phrase is can't died in the poorhouse.

Blue blood, a term often used to refer to WASPy or patrician folks, goes back to the 1700s and the Spanish term sangre azul. It described the class of people who never had to work outside or expose themselves to the sun, so blue veins would show through their ivory, marble-like skin.

If someone's a dime piece or a dime, they're mighty attractive -- as in, a perfect 10.

What's the difference between drunk and drunken? If you dig through the linguistic corpora, or collections of texts, you'll find that we celebrate in drunken revelry and break into drunken brawls, but individuals drive drunk and or get visibly drunk. Typically, drunken is used for a situation, and drunk refers to a person.

Ever seen someone repeatedly around town and made up an elaborate life story for them without actually ever meeting them? In slang terms, that sort of person in your life is called a unicorn.

Harriet Doerr published her first novel, the National Book Award-winning Stones for Ibarra, at the age of 73.

Don't think about ordering a soft serve ice cream in Vermont—there, it's a Creemee. The term has stuck around the Green Mountain State by the sheer force of Vermonter pride.

The term Melungeon, applied to a group of people in Southeastern Appalachia marked by swarthy skin and dark eyes, has been used disparagingly in the past. But Melungeons themselves reclaimed that name in the 1960s. The Melungeon Heritage website details some of the mystery behind their origin. The name comes from the French term melange, meaning "mixture."

The initialism LLAS, meaning love you like a sister, isn't a texting phenomenon—it goes back 30 or 40 years to when girls would write each other letters.

Diminutive suffixes, Donnie for Don, change the meaning of a name to something smaller, cuter, or sweeter.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

--

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Drop a Dime - 7 October 2013


Sun, Oct 06, 2013


This week on "A Way with Words": Why call it a doggy bag when it's really for your husband? This week on "A Way with Words": Why call it a doggy bag when it's really for your husband? Grant and Martha talk about the language of leftovers and why we eat beef and not cow.  And how old is the typical public-library patron? The answer may surprise you. Plus, in Afghanistan, proverbs and poetry are part of everyday conversation--like the proverb about how every proud porcupine coos to its baby, "Oh, my child of velvet!" Also, the origin of the word khaki, the cycling term Fred, and how to pronounce calliope and kyarn.

FULL DETAILS

In Afghanistan, proverbs and poetry are part of everyday conversation. When Martha spoke with Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and And The Mountains Echoed, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, he told her about graffiti in Kabul, which sometimes includes verse from the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi.

There are doobies, and then there are good doobies. A caller from Traverse City, Michigan, says her husband refers to himself as a good doobie whenever he'd clean the house or pay the bills. The phrase back goes back to Romper Room, a children's television series, where the Do Bee bumblebee taught kids lessons like, do be a plate cleaner, don't be a plate fussy.

To dime someone out is to narc or tattle, common in the days when it cost ten cents to use a pay phone and snitch. Of course, that's when pay phones were used at all.

Here's an Afghan proverb about honesty: A tilted load won't reach its destination.

In American English, khaki has come to mean "business casual," but it comes from the Farsi word for "earthy." In the 1840s, the British picked it up in the north of India as a descriptor for their sturdy soldiers' pants that matched the color of dust.

Every plate that is made, breaks. This Afghan proverb means that all things come to an end.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a number game about things so grand, words like forever become five-ever.

Do you still take your leftovers in a doggy bag? The term used to refer to a bone or shank the chef would give a guest to take home to their dog. Nowadays, there's no shame in keeping your leftovers, and that parcel goes by other names, like to-go box.

A listener from San Diego, California, sent us two terms: pawburst, which happens when a cat reaches out to stretch, and head-to-hat ratio, or the amount of jobs one corporate employee has to juggle.

A calliope—that organ often found on steamboats or at circuses—ends like Penelope, not cantaloupe. The word originally comes from the Greek muse of eloquence and epic poetry, though the sound of a calliope today is associated more with carnival sideshows.

A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender says, what is this, a joke? Yep.

When someone says maybe, are they suggesting an option, or merely being polite? A caller from Anna, Texas, met a Canadian who used the word maybe to soften his imperatives. The same effect is often achieved with conditional phrases: Would you mind moving your car? sounds better than, move your car, please.

Here's a great Southernism: If someone's nothing but breath and britches, and means they don't amount to much.

How old is the typical library patron? Grant shares a study that says Americans ages 16-29 are considered more likely to read actual printed library books and search the databases, and to spend more time at the libraries themselves.

We eat chicken and fish, but not cow. Instead, we use terms like veal, beef, mutton, and pork to refer to red meat. It's largely the result of the Norman invasion of the British Isles, when French started to meld with English.

He has soaked a hundred heads but hasn't shaved one. This Afghan proverb refers to someone who doesn't finish what they start.

Kyarn is an Appalachian regional pronunciation of carrion, as in a roadkill carcass.

Here's another Afghan proverb: five fingers are brothers, but they're not equals.

In cycling, a Fred is a chubby poseur who's bought a fancy bike and a fancier outfit but can't even pedal up a hill.

The shade of tan called bisque derives its name from the color of a biscuit.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
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That Old-Book Smell - 30 September 2013


Sun, Sep 29, 2013


This week on "A Way with Words": You walk into a used bookstore, or pull down an old volume at the library, and there it is: The smell of old books. If you detect notes of vanilla in that intoxicating scent, there's a reason. Also, why some people think the word awesome is overused, why comic sans serif is a font almost universally reviled, and the origin of the phrase around Robin Hood's barn. Plus, chuck it vs. chunk it, sharing out, the dummy it, intellectual jokes, and the answers some parents give when a kid asks one too many questions. As in, "Daddy, what's that?" "Why, it's a wiggly-woggler for grinding smoke!"


FULL DETAILS

Nothing like that old-book smell. And if you open up an old volume and think you detect notes of vanilla, there's a good reason. That intoxicating scent is the result of lignin, a chemical compound in plants used for making paper. It has a molecular structure similar to that of vanilla.

"Grandpa, what's that?" A caller says that when she asked her grandfather one too many questions, he'd give her the fanciful answer  That's a dingbat off of a wiffem dilly that you grind smoke with. It's one of several things parents say to deflect questions from inquisitive children. Similar phrases include a wigwam for a water-windmill for grinding smoke, a weegee for grinding smoke, and a wiggly-woggler for grinding smoke.

Is there a word for a word that doesn't fit its own definition? For example, verb is a noun, and monosyllabic is polysyllabic. Come to think of it, why is it so hard to remember how to spell mnemonic?

A truck driver in Tucson, Arizona, has a dispute with her boyfriend: If you toss something out, do you chuck it or chunk it?

Is it solipsistic in here or is it just me? That's one answer to the question: What's the most intellectual joke you know?  http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/1h1cyg/whats_the_most_intellectual_joke_you_know/

Quiz Guy John Chaneski offers a quiz with punning clues from some of the nation's top crossword-puzzle constructors.

Do the phrases share out and explain out have a special, nuanced meaning in the worlds of business and education? Or are they jargon to be avoided?

A Vermont caller feels the word awesome is overused to the point of being almost meaningless. There's a term for that. It's called semantic weakening.

Listener Jennifer Bragg writes: "In our home, we call an extra strong up of extra-strong coffee confesso. One cup and you can't stop talking."

A caller originally from South Florida grew up calling the screened-in patio area behind her house a lanai, but now that she lives in Indianapolis, she hears this structure called breezeway. The word lanai actually originated in Hawaii, and may have been popularized in Florida by real estate developers.

The origin of the phrase in the offing is nautical. The offing is the part of the ocean that one can see from shore, so if something's in the offing, it's not that far away.

Why does everyone hate the Comic Sans Serif? Well, maybe not everyone, but a lot of people dislike that font. http://theweek.com/article/index/245632/how-typeface-influences-the-way-we-read-and-think  In fact, graphic designer David Cadavy gave a whole Ignite Chicago talk on the topic. http://kadavy.net/blog/posts/why-you-hate-comic-sans/

In parts of the American South, a can of creasies is a can of watercress salad, also known as salad greens.

A Quebec listener asks: In the phrases it's a girl, or it's raining, what exactly is the it here? It's called the weather it or the dummy it, and it serves a placeholder inserted to make the sentence function grammatically.

Polyglots sometimes experience faulty language selection, accidentally reaching for words from a language different from the one they're speaking. Listener Phoebe Liu of Seattle grew up speaking Chinese, then learned English, and studied Japanese in college. She says that physically embodying stereotypical speakers of each language when speaking helps her keep the languages straight.

If you say they went all the way around Robin's barn, it means they took a long, circuitous route. A San Antonio, Texas, listener wants to know: Who is Robin and why did he build his barn in such an inconvenient place? It's probably a reference to Robin Hood, the legendary character who kept the riches he stole in Sherwood Forest -- a very big "barn" indeed. 

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
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A Hole to China (Rebroadcast) - 23 September 2013


Sun, Sep 22, 2013


Have a question about objective pronouns? Whom ya gonna call? Wait--is that right? Or would it be "who ya gonna call"? "Whom" may be technically correct, but insisting on it can get you called an elitist. It's enough to make you nervous as a polecat in a perfume parlor! And if you really want to dig a hole all the way to China, don't start anywhere in the continental United States--you'll come out at the bottom of the ocean! Plus, how to pronounce the name of the Show-Me State, catfishing, gallon smashing, and what it means to conversate.

FULL DETAILS

March 4 was National Grammar Day, an occasion that prompted thoughtful essays and discussions about grammar, as well as a Tweeted Haiku Contest, for which Martha served a judge. Arika Okrent, author of In The Land of Invented Languages, took the prize with this one: I am an error/ And I will never reveal myself/ After you press send. Actually, that tweet became a self-fulfilling prophecy, because she soon followed up with an apt correction: Make that "send".

The idea of digging a hole to China surfaces as early as 1872 in a Chamber's Journal fiction piece about beavers and engineers. Unfortunately, digging from almost anywhere in the United States would lead you to open water on the other end. To dig straight through to China, you'd have to start shoveling in Northern Argentina. There'd also be a few pesky physics problems to work out, like the fiery, molten mass at the center of the Earth. Here's how to find out where you'd end up when you start digging from anywhere on the planet, and how to make an earth sandwich with your antipodes.

Whom you gonna call about discrepancies regarding who and whom? Grant and Martha, that's who. Although whom to contact is a correct use of whom, it's fast becoming obsolete, with growing numbers of people viewing it as elitist, effete, or both. But fair warning: Do not correct someone on this unless you're sure you have your facts straight!

Here's another tweeted haiku from Liz Morrison in San Diego: "Serial comma/ Chicago yes, AP no/ You bewilder me."

Quiz Master John Chaneski has a game about professions that match their respective verbs. What, for example, does a tutor do?

Conversate, a variation of the word converse, is part of African-American Vernacular English, but with a slightly different meaning. To conversate is "to converse raucously." This word goes back to at least 1811, and it's well-known to many African-Americans. It's commonly heard in the Bahamas and Jamaica as well.

Martha spoke recently at an Audubon Society event, where she traced the role of the Latin stem greg-. It's a form of the Latin word grex meaning "flock" or "herd." This root appears in many English words involving groups, including aggregate, congregate, gregarious, as well as the word egregious--literally, "standing outside the herd."

Cain from Dublin, Ireland, wonders why sportscasters in his country often say a team's at sixes and sevens when they're looking disorganized or nonplussed. The leading theory suggests that sixes and sevens, primarily heard in the United Kingdom, comes from a French dice games similar to craps, called hazard, wherein to set on cinque and sice (from the French words for five and six) was the riskiest roll.

Old Eddard sayings were plentiful in the 1930s, when the Lum and Abner radio show was a hit in households across the country. Lum Edwards, who made up half of the cornball duo, would offer up such wise sayings as I always found that the best way to figure out what tomorrow's weather was going to be is to wait until tomorrow comes along. That way you never make a mistake.

Did you know that the word rack can also mean "one thousand," as in, he has four racks, or four thousand dollars? Here's another slang term: Gallon Smashing. It's the latest craze in pranks involving gallons of milk, a grocery store aisle to smash them on, and plenty of free time to waste. And of course, no slang roundup could fail to mention catfishing, the practice of lying to someone on the Internet in order to manipulate them, as in the case of former Notre Dame star Manti Te'o and noted Pacific Islander uberprankster Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

On the occasion of National Grammar Day, University of Illinois linguist Dennis Barron has pointed out some arresting posters from a wartime version from the early 20th century. They're from a 1918 Chicago Women's Club initiative called Better American Speech Week, a jingoistic campaign tinged with nationalism and ethnocentrism.

Stanley Wilkins, a listener from Tyler, Texas, shares the idiom nervous as a pole cat in a perfume parlor. A polecat, more commonly known as a skunk, also fronts such gems as mean as a polecat, nervous as a pole cat in a standoff with a porcupine, and tickled as a polecat eating briars. In other news, Grant admits that, from a reasonable distance, he enjoys the mephitic emanations of Mephitis mephitis.

A while back, we talked about the game Going To Texas, where two kids hold hands and spin around until they fall over dizzy. Becca Turpel from San Diego, California, said she knows the game as Wrist Rockets. Others have identified it as Dizzy Dizzy Dinosaur. Has anyone ever called it Fun?

How do you pronounce Missouri? The late Donald Lance, a former professor from the University of Missouri at Columbia, compiled the exhaustive research that became The Pronunciation of Missouri: Variation and Change in American English, which traces the discrepancy between Missour-ee and Missour-uh all the way back to the 1600s. Today the pronunciation mostly divides along age lines, with older people saying Missour-uh and younger ones saying Missour-ee. The exceptions are politicians, who often say Missour-uh to sound authentic or folksy.

Nancy Friedman, who writes the blog Fritinancy, tweeted this haiku for National Grammar Day: Dear yoga teacher/ if you say down once more/ I'll hurt you, no lie.

If someone's a pound of pennies, it means they're a valuable asset and a pain in the butt, all at the same time. Grant and Martha are stumped on the origin of this one, though it is true that a pound of pennies comes out to about $1.46. One suspects that this guy's banker felt the same way about him.

Have you heard chick used as a verb? Runners and triathletes use it to refer to a female passing a male in a race, as in You just got chicked!

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.
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A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
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Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Whistling Dixie (Rebroadcast) - 16 September 2013


Mon, Sep 16, 2013


Today's most popular dog names are Max and Bella.  In the Middle Ages, though, dogs would answer to names like Amiable. Or Nosewise. Or even . . . Clench. And is the term redneck derogatory? Some folks proudly claim that name. They say it's high time they were redneckcognized. Also, the origin of the phrase rule of thumb, whistling Dixie, the eephus pitch, terms for flabby underarms, and craptastic substitutes for swear words, like Sacapuntas!

FULL DETAILS

Grant and Martha recently served as expert spellers at the San Diego Council on Literacy's annual Adult Spelling Bee, but don't let the age group or philanthropic mission fool you—spelling bees are always i-n-t-e-n-s-e. The word Rorschach shall forever haunt them, but they also took away a new favorite—homologate, meaning to sanction or officially approve. As in, "I'm Joe Blow, and I homologated this message."

There comes a time in life where waving hello means showing off some flabby underarm, but we have some slang to make "flabby underarm" sound a little less icky. A hi-Betty takes its name from the idea of someone waving hi to a friend named Betty. They're also known as hi-Helens, bingo wings, bat wings, and flying squirrels.

A while back we asked listeners what they call tourists in their neck of the woods, and we've heard back about tourons, which combines tourists and morons, and in the Florida panhandle, folks from out of town are known as sand dollars for bringing along their pocketbooks.

Where does the term redneck come from, and is it derogatory? It goes back at least to the 1830s where it pops up in the Carolinas to refer to a farmer that works in the sun. Over time, people like listener Richard Ramirez of Fort Worth, Texas, have taken it as a term of pride, denoting their authenticity and work ethic. The reality series Here Comes Honey Boo Boo has furthered the cause with her call to redneckognize!  As always, whether such a term is offensive depends on who's saying it, and to whom.

Grant dug up an old book of English proverbs, with gems like Novelty always appears handsome, and New dishes beget new appetites. Perhaps you can consider those before lining up for that new iPhone.

Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a quiz for all the fans out there--as in fans of Star Trek, or The X-Files, or trains. Come to think of it, what would you call a fan of A Way with Words?

Baseball fans know the eeuphus pitch—that arcing lob made famous by Rip Sewell in the 1946 All-Star Game. Before that, the word eephus referred to insider information. Jim Strain in La Mesa, California, even uses it as a verb, as in, that dog's not allowed on the couch, but he'll eephus his way on somehow.

Do you have junk in your frunk? As in, the front trunk, found on cars like this zippy Tesla.

Where does rule of thumb come from? The idiom referring to a practical measure based on experience was never actually a law, though it does pop up in legal opinions suggesting that it'd be okay to let a man beat his wife if the stick was less than a thumb in width.

If you need to release some tension but don't want to curse, try shouting Sacapuntas! This Spanish word for "pencil sharpener" falls into a colorful line of curses that aren't actually curses. For plenty of others, turn to Michelle Witte's book The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearing.

The term daisy cutting, which refers to the low action trot that Arabian and Thoroughbred horses do, is reminiscent of the low grounder in baseball known as a daisy cutter and even the Daisy Cutter explosive, which shoots low-flying shrapnel.

According to vetstreet.com, the top ten female puppy names from 2012 include Bella, Daisy, Lucy, Molly and Lola. Notice anything odd? They're all human names! Gone are the days of pets named Fluffy and Pooch; in are the days of human children named after fruits and vegetables. In the Middle Ages, though, you might run into dogs that answer to Amiable, Trinket, Nosewise, Holdfast, and Clench. For more about pet ownership back then, check out historian Kathleen Walker Meikle's book Medieval Pets.

Do you have spizerinctum (or spizzerinctum) and huckledebuck? These terms for passion and energy, respectively, are fun examples of false Latin, meaning they replicate the look and mouthful of Latin words but aren't actually Latin. Huckledebuck, which can also mean commotion or craziness, has been in use for over one hundred years, but still hasn't been cited in any dictionaries.

You ain't just whistling Dixie, and that's the truth! Whistling Dixie, which refers to a wistful carelessness, comes from the song that originated in minstrel shows and from which the South takes its nickname. But if you say someone ain't just whistling Dixie, it means they're not kidding around.

Come on over for dinner, we'll knock a tater in the head or something! This lovely form of a dinner invite came to us from Vera, a listener in British Columbia who heard it while living in Arkansas.

Elbow grease isn't a product you can buy at the hardware store. If a task demands elbow grease, that just means whatever you're doing requires hard work.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
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Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Gnarly Foot (Rebroadcast) - 9 September 2013


Sun, Sep 08, 2013


It's the Up Goer Five Challenge! Try to describe something complex using only the thousand most common words in English. It's a useful mental exercise that's harder than you might think. Also, if you want to make a room dark, you might turn off the lights. But you might also cut them off or shut them. You probably know the experience of hearing or seeing a word so long that it ceases to make sense. But did you know linguists have a term for that? Plus, cumshaw artists, the history of Hoosier and beep, and the debate over whether numbers are nouns or adjectives.

FULL DETAILS

Who uses the phone book these days, right? The people of Norfolk Island off the coast of Australia do! And not only are their names printed, but so are their nicknames. If you're looking to call Carrots, Lettuce Leaf, Moose, Diesel, or Hose, they're all in there.

What makes a word a word? If something's not in the dictionary, you might not be able to use it in Scrabble. But dictionaries aren't the last word on whether a word is legitimate. If you use a word that someone else understands, then it's a word. So when Johnny from East Hampton, New York, called to ask if his made-up term micronutia, meaning "something even smaller than minutia," was a real word, he was happy with our answer.

We've all had the experience of saying a word over and over again until it starts to sound like nonsense. Linguists call this semantic satiation, although you might also think of it as Gnarly Foot phenomenon. Stare at your foot long enough, and you'll start to wonder how such a bizarre-looking thing could ever be attached to your body. Something similar happens with language.

A bleeble is that little sound or word they throw into a radio broadcast, like the call letters, that serves as a brief signature.

 Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a game using three-word phrases linked by the word and. For example, what idiom could be described literally as a country carnival found in the center of town? Hint: this phrase could also be used to describe a good bet.

Is Hoosier a derogatory term? People from Indiana proudly embrace it, but in the dialect island that is the St. Louis area, the word means someone who is uncouth or uncultured. In Southern Appalachia, the related words hoodger, and hoojer still refer to a rustic, ill-mannered person from the hills.

How do you make a room dark? Do you shut the lights, cut the lights, or turn off the lights? "Shut the light," as Bob Dylan sang, may derive from old lanterns on which you'd shut a little door. They're all correct, though even the most common phrase, turn off the light, sounds weird when you think about it. After all, you're not turning anything if you're flipping a switch up and down.

In architecture and design, an affordance is a part of something that serves a function, like the handle on a cup or the notch in a dictionary where you put your thumb. In language we have affordances, too, such as words that indicate a place for someone else to speak or respond.

Is a number a noun or an adjective? Even dictionary editors struggle with how to classify parts of speech. Like color, such words often lie along a spectrum, and asking at what point the number seven goes from a noun to an adjective is like asking at what point blue becomes purple.

A while back, we talked about bookmashes—the found poetry formed by book spines stacked on top of each other. On our Facebook page, Irvin Kanines shared her bookmash: Shortcuts to Bliss/ Running with Scissors/ Naked/ Why Didn't I Think of That?

Try to explain something while only using the thousand most common words in English. It's harder than you might think. This comic from xkcd points out the difficulty in describing a space ship called the Up Goer Five, and an Up-Goer Five Text Editor points out what words don't fit. The challenge becomes even more fun if you're trying to describe complex subjects like science or engineering.

Tracy from Sherman, Texas, wonders why her dad always used cabbage as a verb to mean "to pilfer or swipe." This term goes back to at least the 18th century, when the verb to cabbage had to do with employee theft. Specifically, it referred to the way dressmakers would cut fabric for a garment and keep the excess for themselves, perhaps rolling it into a little ball that looked like, well, cabbage. Today, a student might sneak in a cabbage sheet to cheat on a test.

To hoodwink, or put something over on someone, derives from the act of thieves literally throwing a hood on victims before robbing them, thereby making them wink, which has an archaic meaning of "to close one's eyes."

Sue in Eureka, California, was working at the grocery store during Senior Day when she reminded an elderly customer that the woman might be eligible for a discount. The shopper responded, "Thanks for the tap on the shoulder." Did that mean Sue had said something offensive? No. A tap on the shoulder is simply a way of alerting a stranger to something, since the shoulder is an appropriate body part to touch on someone you don't know.

Think you know Downton Abbey? Try using the Up-Goer Five Text Editor to describe the plot using the thousand most common words in English! Your description probably won't sound much like the Dowager Countess.

When did we start using the word beep? After all, today we have car horns, microwaves and other electronic gizmos that beep, but before the early 1900s, nothing ever beeped. It makes you wonder: How did people back then know their Hot Pocket was ready?

We spoke earlier about cumshaw artists, or people who get things done by crafty stealing or bartering. Alan Johnson from Plano, Texas, told us a story from his Air Force days in Vietnam, when he and some comrades stole a bunch of plywood by sneaking onto a Navy base and loading it into the truck. When a Naval officer saw them, they started unloading it and explaining how they'd come to drop off some excess wood. So the officer told them to get their wood out of there! Classic cumshaw artistry.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.



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Bump and Grind (Rebroadcast) - 2 September 2013


Sun, Sep 01, 2013


Remember a few years ago when Amazon introduced that mysterious device called a Kindle? People worried that electronic readers would replace traditional books. Turns out the death of the hardcover was greatly exaggerated. Also, the expression "bump and grind" doesn't always mean what you think. Plus, the origin of jet black, the roots of fugacious, a game called Goin' to Texas, and how to punctuate the term y'all. And is there anything express about espresso?

FULL DETAILS

Remember the olden days of 2007, when Amazon first introduced the Kindle? Oprah named it her Favorite New Gadget. Some people thought e-readers signaled the death of hardback books, but as Nicholas Carr notes in the Wall Street Journal, only 16% of Americans have purchased an e-book, while 60% say they have no interest in them at all. What is clear is that no matter the medium, people are reading more in general.

"I don't see nothing wrong with a little bump n' grind," sings the R&B star R. Kelly, referring to the hip-thrusting dance that's all the rage with kids these days. While some people use the phrase the old bump and grind to refer to the daily grind of workaday life, it's probably better not to use it unless your job involves, well, bumping and grinding.

Alan from Austin, Texas, asks: How do y'all punctuate the contraction of you all? Is it y'all or ya'll? You'd think it'd follow the pattern of she'll and we'll, but y'all is an exception to the rule.

A while ago we talked about the drink called a suicide, also known as a Matt Dillon. That's when the bartender pours whatever's dripped on the bar mat into a shot glass and some lucky fellow downs it. We've heard lots of variations from listeners, including the Jersey Turnpike, the Gorilla Fart, the Buffalo Tongue and the Alligator Shot. Strangely enough, it's yet to be called the Tasty.

Our Master of Quiz John Chaneski has a game from his home borough of Brooklyn. For this quiz, he gives us the definition of a word, plus its Brooklynese definition. For example, "a couple with no children" and "a synonym of ponder" are both known as what?

Why do we say something is jet black? It doesn't have anything to do with aircraft. The jet in jet black is the name of a black semi-precious stone, which in turn takes its name from the part of Syria where it was found in abundance in antiquity.

Dan Henderson of Sunnyvale, California, sent us a great cartoon of two guys at a bar. One says to the other, "Explain to me how comparing apples and oranges is fruitless?"

Is master a gender-neutral title? James from Seattle, Washington, hosts a local pub quiz night, where he's known as the Quizmaster. But, he wonders, would it be appropriate to call a woman a Quizmaster? Of course! Many titles, like Postmaster or even actor, have come to be gender-neutral. We wouldn't say Quizmistress because mistress has taken on a specific connotation--namely, the female lover of a married man. For more on gender and language, Grant recommends University of Michigan professor Ann Kurzan's book Gender Shifts in the History of English.

Hey kid, hey kid, give 'em the saliva toss, the perspiration pellet, the damp fling, deluded dip, the good ol' fashioned spitball! An essay on baseball slang from 1907 sent Martha off on a search for more of these wet ones.

In Chicano English, the word barely, which traditionally means "just happened," can also mean "almost didn't happen," as in I just barely got here. This locution apparently reflects the fact that in Spanish, the word apenas can mean either one of these. The Chicano use of the barely in this sense is a calque, or loan translation, which occurs when a pattern from one language gets transferred to another.

Our earlier conversation about sign language reminded Martha of this quote from Helen Keller: "Once I knew only darkness and stillness…my life was without past or future…but a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living."

One of our listeners was visiting the Orchid House at the San Diego Zoo and happened across the word fugacious, meaning "blooming only briefly." The word can also apply to one's mood, and shares a Latin root with "fleeting" words like refuge, fugitive and subterfuge.

Is there an express in espresso? Nope. Cafe espresso is literally "pressed-out coffee." So the name espresso has nothing to do with the speed with which espresso is made. The term express, on the other hand, as in express train, derives from the idea of "directly," or "specific to a particular destination." It's the same express as in expressly forbidden, meaning "specifically forbidden."

Mary, from Royal Oaks, Michigan, says she once confused a friend by offering to relieve her of snow shoveling duties with the question, Can I spell you? This usage of spell, which refers to substituting for a period of time, has been deemed archaic by Merriam Webster, although we believe it's alive and well.

Bill Watkins from Tallahassee, Florida, is having a tough time knowing which setting to use on his microwave. He figures this moment of indecision while standing there with your finger poised over the buttons deserves a name. His suggestion: microwavering.

What do you call that children's game where you hold hands and spin around until you're too dizzy to stand? Sally Jarvis, who grew up in Eastern Arkansas, says she and her childhood playmates called it Going To Texas.

Latin phrases are commonly misused, but there's perhaps no better example than Vampire Butters' butchering of per se, which simply means "in itself," in this episode of South Park.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.



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Gracious Plenty (Rebroadcast) - 26 August 2013


Mon, Aug 26, 2013


When somebody sneezes, you say, Bless you or Gesundheit. But suppose that person coughs. Are you supposed to say something--or are they?  Plus, Mexican standoffs, gracious plenty, linguistic false friends, southpaw vs. northpaw, the slang of rabbit fanciers, a quiz about animal noises, and where to find a purple squirrel. And what's so humbling about winning an award?

FULL DETAILS

When you think of the word binky, a child's pacifier probably comes to mind. But it's also a term known among rabbit fanciers. It refers to when bunnies frolic and jump around.

When somebody sneezes, you say, "Bless you" or "Gesundheit," but what about when someone coughs? Grant believes that if anything, the cougher ought to say excuse me. A commenter on Paul Davidson's blog sets a good rule of thumb: bless anything that looks like it hurt.

A listener from Fairfield, Connecticut wonders why she changes her accent and diction when family members from the Middle East are in town. Actually, everyone does this. It's a matter of imitating those around us in order to make ourselves feel part of a group. After all, the human response to someone who sounds like us is to like them more.

Here's a quiz: Is a purple squirrel a) a diving board trick, b) a cocktail, or c) a rare job candidate with all the right qualifications? The answer is c. There have, however, been reports of purple squirrels of the sciurine variety.

Is Hiya a legitimate way to say hello? Sure. The Dictionary of American Regional English has citations for this greeting going back to 1914, but it's heard both in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Our Quizmaster John Chaneski has quiz based on animal sounds. What sort of wild party would a sheep throw? Or what five-masted ship do golden retrievers sail on? Tip: For this game, animal sounds are just as important as advanced vocabularies.

This awards season, many winners will say they're humbled by the honor. Ann from Burlington, Vermont, wonders: Shouldn't they feel, well, honored? What's so humbling about winning awards? Grant argues that saying "I'm humbled" is truly a mark of humility to express doubt about your worthiness. Martha would rather hear them just say "I'm honored" or "I'm grateful."

What's the best time to schedule a dentist appointment? Why, tooth-hurty, of course!

If you've had enough to eat, you might say you've had gracious plenty. This expression goes back to the early 1800s, and serves the same purpose as saying you're sufficiently suffonsified and or you've had an elegant sufficiency.

A San Diego listener of Mexican descent says a scene in a Quentin Tarantino film has her wondering about the term Mexican standoff. Is it just a duel? A three-way duel, complete with guns? The end of a 1-1 doubleheader in baseball? Over time, it's had all of these definitions. But the term appears to derive from a derogatory use of Mexican to describe something inferior or undesirable, and therefore should be avoided.

Beware of linguistic false friends, also known as false cognates. You wouldn't want to say you're feeling embarazada in Spanish, unless you want to say you're pregnant. And don't order the tuna in Spain unless you want to hear a musical group made up of college kids. A kind of false friend exists within English as well—noisome doesn't mean noisy, it means icky, and bombastic doesn't mean booming, it means fluffy or ostentatious, deriving from bombast, a kind of cotton padding.

In Zen Buddhism, the term all one refers to a state of enlightenment that's the opposite of isolated and alone. The word alone, however, comes from the idea of "all on one's own." The word alone also gives us lone, lonely and lonesome, through a process called misdivision.

Is the phrase right on just an outdated relic of hippie talk, or is it making a comeback? The Journal of American Folklore traces it back to at least 1911, but it gained traction among African-Americans and hippies in the '60s and '70s, and now exists as a fairly common term of affirmation.

In an earlier episode, we talked about those huge palmetto bugs known as gallon-nippers.We heard from Dell Suggs in Tallahassee, Florida, who says he knows them simply as gallinippers. This term for a really large mosquito goes back to the early 1700s, and plenty of variations, like granny-nipper, have been tossed about. What do you call those mosquitoes the size of a racquetball where you live?

How come left-handers get the term southpaw, but righties aren't known as rightpaws? Because being right-handed is the default setting, the fun terms really just exist for the variants. In Australia, lefties are known as mollydookers, and the word sinister actually comes from the Latin term for "left."

Do you pronounce crayon like crown? This common variation tends to be a Midlands pronunciation. Actually, Americans may pronounce this word several ways, as this dialect map shows.

This week’s episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Cute As a Button (Rebroadcast) - 19 August 2013


Mon, Aug 19, 2013


Did you ever wonder why we capitalize the pronoun "I," but not any other pronoun? There's a reason, and it may not be what you think. Also, the romantic story behind our term "halcyon days," the origin of the phrase "like white on rice," and the linguistic scuttlebutt on the word scuttlebutt. Plus, a pun-laden word game, hold your peace vs. hold your piece, nixie on your tintype, and no skin off my nose.

FULL DETAILS

Listeners have been posting photos of themselves with their favorite words on our Word Wall, including some that are new to us. For example, epalpebrate might be a good one to drop when describing the Mona Lisa in Art History class, since it means without eyebrows. And Menehune is a term for the tiny, mischievous people in Hawaiian folklore.

If it's no skin off your nose, there's no harm done. This idiom, which the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms suggests may come from boxing, means the same thing as no skin off my back or no skin off my ear. If you have other idioms in this vein, share them with us!

What's the difference between speak your piece and speak now or forever hold your peace? While speaking your piece refers to a piece of information you want to share, holding your peace relates to keeping the peace. This is a simple case of a collision of idioms.

For years, teachers have warned against using the word ain't, apparently with some success. Emily Hummell from Boston sent us a poem that may have contributed: Don't say ain't/ your mother will faint/ your father will fall in a bucket of paint/ your sister will cry/ your brother will sigh/ the cat and dog will say goodbye. Did your parents or teachers have another way of breaking children of the habit of saying ain't?

Have you heard the latest scuttlebutt around the water cooler? This term for gossip, which comes from the water-filled cask in a ship, is a literal synonym for water cooler talk!

On our Word Wall, one listener fancies ginnel: the long, narrow passage between houses you find in Manchester and Leeds. Have you shared your favorite word yet?

Our Puzzle Maestro John Chaneski has a great variation of his classic Tom Swifty game, based on adjectives that fit their subject. For example, how did the citizens feel upon hearing that the dictator of their small country shut down the newspapers? Beware of puns!

Does capitalizing the pronoun I feel like aggrandizing your own self-importance? Timna, an English Composition professor at an Illinois community college, reports that a student contested refused to capitalize this first person pronoun, arguing that to do so was egotistical. But it's a standard convention of written English going back to the 13th century, and to not capitalize it would draw even more attention. When writing a formal document, always capitalize the I. It's a pronoun, not a computer brand.

If you want to sound defiant, you could do worse than exclaiming, Nixie on your tintype! This phrase, meaning something to the effect of spit on your face, popped up in Marjorie Benton Cooke's 1914 classic, Bambi. Kristin Anderson, a listener from Apalachicola, Florida, shares this great poem that makes use of the phrase.

Do you know the difference between flotsam and jetsam? In an earlier episode, we discussed flotsam, which we described as the stuff thrown off a sinking ship. But several avid sailors let us know that jetsam's the stuff thrown overboard, while flotsam is the remains of a shipwreck. Thanks, crew.

Paula from Palm City, Florida, wants to know: What's so cute about buttons, anyway? Like the expressions cute as a bug and cute as a bug's ear, this expression seems to derive from the fact that all of these things are delicate and small. She raises another interesting question: Are the descriptors beautiful and attractive preferable to cute and adorable after a certain age? We want to hear your thoughts!
 
The weeks on either side of the winter solstice have a special place in Greek mythology. In the story of Alcyone, the daughter of Aeolus, she marries Ceyx, who arrogantly dares to compare their relationship to that of Zeus and Hera. Such hubris is never a good thing in Greek myth, and Zeus causes his death. But the gods eventually take pity on the mortal couple, changing them into birds known for their devotion to each other. Those birds, named after Alcyone, were said to nest on the surface of the sea during calm weather, giving rise to our term halcyon days.

Is white on rice a racist idiom? No! It simply means that if you're on top of your tasks like white on rice, it means you've got it covered the way rice is covered in whiteness. In Geneva Smitherman's Talkin and Testifyin, she relays a lyric from Frankie Crocker that goes Closer than white's on rice; closer than cold's on ice. Now that's close!

If something's got you feeling ate up, then you're consumed by the notion that it didn't go perfectly. You're overwhelmed, obsessed, or maybe you're just exhausted. However, among members of the Air Force, ate up has long meant gung ho, as in, that pilot's ate up, he loves flying so much.

Via Maud Newton's Twitter feed comes this gem from The Sea, by William John Banville: The past beats inside me like a second heart. If you see a great quote somewhere, tweet it to us!

How conversational fillers such as like and you know creep into our vernacular? Like most verbal ticks and pieces of vocabulary, we pick these things up from those around us. But contrary to some folks' opinions, the use of like and you know don't decrease one's credibility. When used appropriately, they actually make it easier for people to relate to us.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
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Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.



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South End of a Chicken (Rebroadcast) - 12 August 2013


Sun, Aug 11, 2013


Are your nightstand books all over the place? Why not stack 'em into a bookmash? A bookmash is a kind of found poetry formed from book titles! And we all know that honesty is the best policy. But does that mean you should correct the grammar of your daughter's teacher? Plus, texting lingo in everyday speech, the proper use of the word "penultimate," and what it means to have the south end of a chicken flying north. And what's up with pedantic gentlemen having to mansplain everything?

FULL DETAILS

Go to your nightstand, stack your books with the spines facing out, and what do you get? It's a bookmash. This new kind of found poetry popped up on Stan Carey's blog Sentence First, with this collection of titles: Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes/ Bugs/ Creatures of The Earth/ In The Shadow of Man. Send us a photo of your bookmash!

If a fellow thinks he's a hotter than he really is, he'd be known in the South as a dirt road sport. This term's been defined as "a country boy showing off in a Saturday afternoon town," and refers to someone reaching beyond his station in life, perhaps by spending beyond his means and making a show of it. If there's a dirt road sport in your life, we'd love to hear some stories!

Do you say the terms NBD, LOL, or BRB in everyday speech? It sounds strange to hear text lingo spoken aloud, but with all language, it's only weird until it becomes the norm, and then we wonder how we did without it. That said, most of these initialisms, like BFF, go back farther than text messaging, so don't blame kids these days!

That fatty bump at the end of a turkey or a chicken, known as the pope's nose, is also called the south end of a northbound chicken.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a special twist on the "Change One Letter" game. For this one, change one letter in a word to make it fit twice in a sentence. For example, fill in these blanks: Dear ______ Brown, lay off the candy bars in the confessional or you'll only get _____. Have the answer yet?

If something's still right touchous, that means it's still a painful area, be it a bruise on the leg or an emotional sore spot. No touching what's still right touchous!

Here's a phrase to describe a stuck-up gal: There's no pleasing her! If she gets to heaven, she'll ask to see the upstairs.

When is it okay to correct someone's grammar? A listener from Madison, Wisconsin, says a friend went for a parent-teacher conference only to notice that a sign in the classroom read "Things your thankful for." Should the teacher be called out? Is she committing educational malpractice by indoctrinating the four-year-olds with harmful misspelling? Before rushing to judgment, remember that teachers have an enormous amount of work to deal with, and you sure don't want to be "that parent"! But of course, if you're going to confront someone about a mistake, it's always best to do it one on one.

Nina Katchadourian's Sorted Book Project includes some excellent bookmash poetry. Just consider the following: Indian History for Young Folks/ Our Village/ Your National Parks.

If you're not late for something, you could say that you're in good season. This phrase, which shows up in Noah Webster's dictionaries from the 1820s, derives from the agricultural state of fruits and vegetables being in season. Instead of referring to a specific moment, in good season means you're in the ballpark of good timing.

Ever been on an airplane when an infant spits the dummy? This Australian slang expression, meaning to throw a fit, comes from the Aussie use of the word dummy to mean pacifier or binky. What do you call it when someone has a tantrum -- be they two or 52?

A toad in a hole—that piece of bread with a hole cut out with a fried egg in the middle—sure does come with some alternate nomenclature. Since our earlier discussion, listeners have sent us many other names for it, including fish in a pond, bread-frame egg, television egg, and one-eyed Egyptian. The more terms, the better, so keep 'em coming!

Where does the term one-off come from? Among British foundry workers in the 1950s, the number of units produced from a given mold was designated with the word off. So if twenty widgets came off the line, you'd call that batch a twenty-off. A one-off, in turn, refers to a one-of-a-kind object, such as a prototype model. And although Kingsley Amis once called the term an American abomination, make no mistake: We have the UK to thank for one-off.

What's hotter than a hen in a wool basket? Or hotter than a goat's butt in a pepper patch? You tell us!

Many public speakers, including President Obama, have developed a reputation for using the reduplicative copula. You know, that thing where he says, "the thing of it is, is…" In wonky speak, this is what happens when a cleft sentence, such as the sky is where the kite is, combines with a focusing construction, such as the reality is, to form this clunker: The reality is, is the sky is where the kite is.

You guys, nobody likes a mansplainer! You know those dudes who need to explain something to you that you already know? In Rebecca Solnit's LA Times essay "Men Who Explain Things," she recounts the time some pedantic schmo explained a book to her, not knowing that she was the author! Have you been given a mansplanation recently? Tell us about it!

Does penultimate mean the very last? No! It means second to last, taking from the Latin word paene, meaning almost. It's the same Latin root that gives us the word for that "almost island," a peninsula. People misusing penultimate are overreaching with language. Instead, it's best to write below your abilities and read above them. That's the ultimate way to go.

Parse this bookmash as you will: Making Love/ Getting Busted/ Memento Mori/ Leaving Las Vegas/ In Guilt and Glory.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Pie in the Sky (Rebroadcast) August 3, 2013


Mon, Aug 05, 2013


Looking for a book to read with the kids, or maybe a guide to becoming a better writer? Why are leg cramps called charley horses? And where’d we get a phrase like pie in the sky? If you happen to be tall, you’ve no doubt heard plenty of clueless comments from strangers. A listener who’s 6-foot-8 shares his favorite snappy comebacks. Plus, a word quiz for math lovers, bathroom euphemisms, johnny-on-the-spot, and the biggest palmetto bugs in the land!

This episode first aired December 15, 2012.



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Little Pitchers (Rebroadcast) - 29 July 2013


Sun, Jul 28, 2013


Can reading poetry make you a better writer? Grant and Martha discuss how reading poetry improves your prose. Also, how linguists guess where you come from based on how you speak. And what do you call someone who picks the chocolate out of the trail mix? Plus, champing at the bit, rutching around, kerfuffles and kerfluffles, pear-shaped, and little pitchers with big ears!

FULL DETAILS

Can reading poetry make you a better writer? The way poetry pushes up against the rules of grammar makes it a great teacher even for the writing of standard prose. And while plenty of poems are best comprehended by the wise and mature, hip-hop is a form that's more emotional and less subtle, and over at rapgenius.com, avid followers of hip-hop have annotated lyrics to tell the stories and meanings behind them. Is there a type of poetry that really moves you?

Veronica, who grew up in Liverpool, England, has noticed that kerfuffle is a favorite term among American journalists talking about our political situation, though it's much more common across the pond. This word for a disturbance or a bother comes from Scotland, but it's been picked up in the United States, where it's often pronounced as kerfluffle.

How do you get rid of the hiccups? Have someone scare you? Hold your breath? We hear thinking of six bald men may just do the trick!

When it comes to trail mix, the peanuts may just as well be packing peanuts—all we really want is the chocolate! But if you're one of those people who dig for the M&Ms and leave the rest, you might be accused of high-grading. This term comes from the mining industry in the early 1900s, when gold miners would sneak the good pieces into their lunch pails. What stuff would you admit to high-grading?

A while back, our Quiz Guy John Chaneski gave us a game of aptronyms, and your answers are still pouring in. Like, what do you call two guys over a window? How about Kurt n' Rod?

For this week's game, Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a word puzzle for license plate readers. Might those first three letters stand for a longer word? For example, MMT might be short for mathematics, while MMX could be flummox. The object of this game is to think of the shortest answers possible. Can you think of any with fewer letters?

What's the difference between champing at the bit and faunching at the bit? Champing, or chomping, means you're pumped up and ready to go, while faunching—more common in the Southwest—implies more anger and frustration. Which do you use?

When adults are talking sex, money, or other adult topics in the presence of children, one might say "little pitchers have big ears," meaning that they don't want the little ones to hear. The expression has to do with beverage pitchers with handles curved like ears. What do you say when you wish you could cover the kids' ears or make them leave the room?

High-grading, or stealing choice bits of something, is mentioned a book by David G. Rasmussen called The Man Who Moiled For Gold. Moil itself is an interesting term, meaning "to become wet and muddy from work." It comes from the Latin word mollis, meaning "soft," which is also the source of our word mollify.

It's hard to hold a baby when he's rutching around. Rutching, or rutsching, which means slipping, sliding and squirming around comes from German, and is used in areas influenced by Pennsylvania Dutch. What do you call it when infants start wriggling and shimmying all over the place?

You might use the phrase pear-shaped to describe someone who's wide in the hips, but to say everything went pear-shaped can also mean that things went wrong. This slang term was among the members of Britain's Royal Air Force during the Falkland Islands War, referring to the fact that when planes would crash, they'd crunch into the shape of a pear.

Martha's enthusiastic about the book Poetry 180: A Turning Back To Poetry, edited by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. One gem in there by Robley Wilson called "I Wish in the City of Your Heart" provides a lovely image of that moment when the rain stops and the rutching kids can run outside.

Despite the reach of television and pop culture, American English is growing ever more diverse in terms of dialect. Grant shows how it's possible to pinpoint your region of origin--or at least come close--based on the way you pronounce the word bag. Of course, whether you call a carbonated beverage soda, pop or Coke also depends on what part of the country you're from. Same with sofa, couch or davenport. Although we still tend to pick up faddish words from other regions, local dialects continue to thrive, and there are plenty of quizzes out there to prove it. Linguist Bert Vaux's American Dialect Survey includes helpful maps based on the answers that speakers in the United States give to 122 questions about regional words and phrases.

Nowadays we think of the gridiron as the football field, but in the 14th century, a gridiron was a cooking instrument with horizontal bars placed over an open flame. Since then, gridiron has lent its name to a Medieval torture device, the American flag, and it's even the source of the terms grid and gridlock.

Why do people up and quit? Can't they just…quit? In the 1300s, the phrase up and followed by an action literally meant you got up and did something. Today, it's taken the figurative meaning of doing something with vigor and enthusiasm, and it's often used with speaking verbs. When's the last time you up and did something?

When you hear that little pitchers have big ears, do you think of a lemonade pitcher or a baseball pitcher? In The Wisdom of Many: Essays On The Proverb, Wolfgang Mieder points out that a lot of people think it refers to a Little League pitcher with big ears sticking out of their baseball cap, though it's really about a drink pitcher. Still, that's no excuse for yelling nasty things at Little League games!

Has ain't gone out of fashion? Teachers have succeeded in stigmatizing the word, and it's also not such a common pet peeve any more. But the biggest reason you don't hear it as much is because it's no longer used in fiction and movies. Nowadays, it's more common to hear ain't used in certain idioms, like say it ain't so. Let us know if you're still hearing it, or if you've taken it upon yourself to preserve the word.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Kissed Her on the Stairs (Rebroadcast) - 22 July 2013


Mon, Jul 22, 2013


Do Americans use the same sign language as the Brits? And what do Japanese people use instead of "umm?" Grant and Martha cover language shifts across the globe. Plus, why we vote at polling places? And what goes into File 13? All this, plus a word quiz, commode vs toilet, saditty and bougie, and cute stuff that kids say!

FULL DETAILS

All languages evolve, and sign language is no exception. The British Sign Language Corpus Project has collected footage of nearly 250 deaf people across the U.K. and noticed lots of changes, especially as the internet has made it easier for hearing-impaired people to sign to more people. For example, the sign for "French people" is no longer a stereotypical mustache twirl—it's now made with a sign for "rooster," the unofficial symbol of France. If you sign, let us know what changes you've seen!

Why do some folks call the toilet a commode? Originally, the commode was a piece of furniture you'd put the chamberpot in. Today, commode is still a common term heard in the American South. Others, though, use the term commode to denote a kind of cabinet, causing confusion when journalists mistook reports of Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham taking a bribe in the form of a pair of antique commodes worth more than $7000. What do you call your porcelain throne?

So, um, where do those, er, filler words come from? Discourse particles, as they're also known, are used to fill those gaps when we're thinking of what to say but don't want to lose our turn in a conversation. English isn't the only language that has them, either. Spanish speakers often use este, and in Japanese, it's eto. Michael Erard has written at length about the subject in his book Um . . .

If you had to say the word telephone in sign language, you'd probably do the thumb and pinky to the head. In the past, though, it was one fist to the ear, one fist to the mouth—just like the old fashioned candlestick phone! The current sign, though, is still a bit skeuomorphic.

Our Puzzle Guy John Chaneski has a game for all the idiom lovers out there. For each category, three letters match with different phrases. For example, name three things you can hold, starting with the letters C, G, and T. These are open-ended questions, so let us know if you think of more answers!

If you're going to put something in File 13, is it headed to a) a top-secret folder, b) a Christmas stocking, or c) trash can? It's the trash! This term began in the 1940s during WWII as military slang, and by the late 60s had fully entered civilian speech. Other jocular expressions for the same thing include round file or circular file.

It's tough to say what generation was best at sarcasm and snark, but the 50s made a good case with I Love Lucy. Charmed, I'm sure, one of those sugarcoated jabs used when meeting someone you're dubious about, was one of Ethel's hallmark lines. Of course, the phrase goes back to the 1850s. Long live sarcasm.

A while back we talked about what English sounds like to those who don't speak it. Martha shares an evocative excerpt from Richard Rodriguez's memoir Hunger of Memory, where he describes the "high nasal notes of middle-class American speech."

When politicians, authority figures, or bureaucrats ignore those who need help, they're said to be sitting high and looking low. This idiom, almost exclusive to the African-American community, goes back to 1970s. It's also used in a religious sense, where God is sitting high and looking low, meaning He takes care of the small things. But outside the context of religion, nobody ought to be sitting high and looking low.

Some of the things kids say are so cute, it's a crime to correct them. Over time, they'll fix their pronunciations of callipitter, so enjoy those mistakes while they last. If you have a favorite little-kid mispronunciation, tell us!

If someone uses American Sign Language, can they communicate with someone in Bolivia? Or France? Or even England? No! In fact, ASL derives from the French system in use in the early 19th century, and they're still 60% identical. British sign language, which arose independently, would be unintelligible to an American signer.

Oh, those saditty chicks think they're all that, don't they? Saditty, or seditty, goes back to the 1940s, where it first appears in news articles from African-American publications, and applies primarily to women who think they're better than others. Bougie, as in bourgeois, has a similar use among African Americans.

Plenty of lizards are scary looking, but that doesn't make them scorpions. Even so, there are places like Western Virginia where the word scorpion is used to refer to an lizard, such as the five-lined skink, known for its distinctive blue tail.

Why do we vote at a polling place? Pol in Middle English simply meant head, and polls are the place where heads are counted. The Middle English word for head also gives us get polliwog, a young frog with a wiggly head, and tadpole, those toads and other little amphibians that for a while look like they're all head.

These days, people are going to prom, in studio, and in hospital -- but there's no the in there! In plenty of dialects, it's common to drop such articles, and use anarthrous nouns, or nouns without articles.

First I gave her peaches, then I gave her pears, then I gave her 50 cents and kissed her on the stairs. If you've got a children's rhyme to rival this gem, share it with us!

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
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Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.



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A Dancer Who Walks for a Living (Rebroadcast) - 15 July 2013


Sun, Jul 14, 2013


You dream of writing the great American novel, but to make ends meet, you spend your days writing boring corporate reports. There's a difference between writing for love and writing for a living—or is there? And does a heyday have anything to do with hay? Did getting dressed to kill originally refer to soldiers? Plus, toad-in-the-hole, deadwoods, due diligence, kibosh, clues, and an election-year word puzzle.


FULL DETAILS

Being a writer and making a living as a writer are often two different things. Maybe you're writing poetry at night but by day you're writing technical manuals or web copy. Journalist Michael Erard, whose day job is writing for think tank, describes such a writer as "a dancer who walks for a living." How do you make the transition between the two? How do you inspire yourself all over again to write what you love?

What do you call it when you're about to jump into a conversation but someone beats you to it? Mary, a caller and self-described introvert from Indianapolis, calls it getting seagulled, inspired by an episode of The Simpsons in which nerdy Lisa works up the courage to participate in a conversation, but is interrupted at the last second by a screeching seagull.

In her new book, The Introvert's Way, author Sophia Dembling refers to this experience as getting steamrolled. A different kind of interruption is getting porlocked, a reference to the visitor from Porlock who interrupted Samuel Taylor Coleridge's reverie while he was writing the poem Kubla Khan and made him lose his train of thought. Have a better term for these unfortunate experiences?

Leah from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, wants to know the origin of the name of the Delmarva Peninsula. It's a portmanteau name, made of parts of the names of the three states represented there: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture at Salisbury University is a great source for more information.

Do you keep copypasta on your computer? It's that bit of tasty text you keep ready to paste in any relevant email or Facebook post. Grant has a great one for language lovers, based on eggcorns, those words or phrases that get switched to things that sound the same. Mustard up all the strength you can, it's a doggy dog world out there!

Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a game inspired by the recent election season. From each clue, determine the word that begins with either D-E-M or R-E-P. For example, what's the term for a part of a song that's performed all over again? Try the quiz, and if you think of any others, email us!

Naomi, a Missoula, Montana, mom who's writing a magazine essay, wants to know if due diligence is the appropriate term to denote the daily, household chores that her son's new stepdad has taken on. The verdict: it's a legal term. If you're writing about personal experiences, stick with a phrase from a lower register of speech, like daily duties. We think the term due diligence is among those being misused and overused.
 
If you're in a state of confusion, you might say I don't know if I'm Arthur or Martha. It's a slang phrase for "I'm confused" that you might hear in Australia or New Zealand, according to the Collins Dictionary.

If you're dressed to kill, you're looking sharp. But does the expression have to do with medieval chivalry, or military armor of any kind? Nope. The earliest cases pop up in text in the 1800s, based on the trend of adding the words to kill onto verbs to mean something's done with force and passion and energy.

If you've got crummy handwriting, you might say that it looks like something written with a thumbnail dipped in tar. But go ahead, dip that thumbnail and write to us anyway. If you've got notable handwriting of any sort, we want to see it!

When you put the kibosh, or kybosh, on something, you're putting a speedy end to it. This term, usually pronounced KYE-bosh, first shows up in print when Charles Dickens used in in 1836, writing under the pseudonym Boz. In that piece, it was spoken by a cockney fellow.

Martha shares a favorite poem, "The Bagel," by David Ignatow. Who wouldn't like to feel "strangely happy with myself"? This and other gems can be found in Billy Collins' book Poetry 180.

For you writers toiling away at your day job, heed the advice of Zadie Smith: "Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied." Wait, what? There has to be some satisfaction in this! Write to us about the simple pleasure that you find in the craft.

Five guys walk into a diner. One orders a toad in the hole, another the gashouse eggs, the third gets eggs in a basket, the next orders a hole in one, and the last fellow gets spit in the ocean. What does each wind up with? The same thing! Although toad in the hole can refer to a sausage-in-Yorkshire pudding dish, it's also among the many names for a good old-fashioned slice of bread with a hole in it, fried with an egg in that hole, including one-eyed jack and pirate's eye.

When something's in its heyday, its in its prime. What does that have to do with hay? Nothing, actually. It goes back to the 1500s, when heyday and similar-sounding words were simply expressions of celebration or joy. Grant is especially fond of the Oxford English Dictionary's first citation for this term, from the John Skelton's Magnyfycence, published around 1529: Rutty bully Ioly rutterkin heyda.

Editors are great for picking up those double the's and similar mistakes, known as eye-skip errors.

Do you refer to complimentary tickets to an event as Annie Oakleys? Or deadwoods, perhaps? The term Annie Oakley supposedly comes from a punched ticket's resemblance to bullet-riddled cards from the sharpshooter's Wild West shows. Deadwood is associated with the old barroom situation where you'd buy a paper drink ticket from one person and give it to the bartender. If you were in good favor with him, he might hand it back to you—that is, the piece of paper, or the dead piece of wood.

In one of history's greatest stories about yarn, Theseus famously made it back out of the deadly Minotaur's labyrinth by unspooling a ball of yarn so he could retrace his steps. In Middle English, such rolled-up yarn was called a clewe. Eventually, clew took on the metaphorical meaning of something that will lead you to a solution. Pretty soon, the spelling was changed to clue, and now we've got that awesome board game and of course, that blue pooch and his bits of evidence.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Make a Train Take a Dirt Road (Rebroadcast) - 8 July 2013


Fri, Jul 05, 2013


Would some Hollywood classics still have been box-office hits if they'd stuck with their original names? Take Anhedonia, which later became Annie Hall. Or $3000, which became Pretty Woman. And can you guess the eventual title of the movie originally called Harry, This is Sally?

Here's a puzzler: try to explain what malt tastes like without using the word malty. Or, for that matter, describe the color red. Defining sensory things is one of the great challenges that dictionary editors confront.

If she'll make a train take a dirt road, does that mean she's pretty or ugly? Nicole from Plano, Texas, overheard the idiom in the Zach Brown Band's song "Different Kind of Fine." The idea is an ugliness is so powerful it can derail a train. But as Zach Brown sings, looks aren't all that makes a lady fine.

Sometimes a couple may be paired, but they're just not connected. As this cartoon suggests, you might say they're bluetoothy.

Our Quiz Master John Chaneski has a game about aptronyms for famous folks, or shall we say folks who were Almost Amous. In this puzzle, you drop the first letter of a famous person's last name in order to give them a fitting new occupation. For example, a legendary bank robber might become an archer by losing the first letter of his last name. See if you can come up with others!

If you spend any time on Facebook, then you've probably had the experience of knowing a whole lot about someone, even though they're just a friend or relative of a friend. And meeting them can be a little weird, or even a slightly creepy. There's a word for that odd connection: foafiness, as in friend-of-a-friend, or foaf.

Remember Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in James L. Brooks' classic Old Friends? No? That's because they changed the title to As Good As It Gets.

If John Wayne asked you to fetch his possibles, what would you go looking for? This term simply means one's personal belongings, and was used often among frontiersmen and cowboys.

In Argentina, a certain cinematic cult classic is known as Very Important Perros. But in the United States, the film was first titled Dogumentary, then later Best In Show.

A grandmother in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is curious about the advice Don't teach your grandmother to suck eggs. This idiom is used as a warning not to presume that you know more than your elders, and may be connected with the old practice of henhouse thieves poking holes in an eggshell and sucking out the yolk. Variants of this expression include Don't teach your grandmother how to milk ducks or Don't teach your grandmother to steal sheep.

If you behave in a struthonian manner, then it means you're behaving like an ostrich. This play term comes from struthos, the ancient Greek word for ostrich. Actually, according to the American Ostrich Association, the old belief that an ostrich will stick its head in the sand is a myth.

Jeremy Dick, a listener from Victoria, Australia, grew up in Canada loving the movie The Mighty Ducks. But once he moved down under, he realized the Aussies call it Champions. What's that all about? Do Australians not think ducks are mighty? TV Tropes explains some reasons why titles change, like, for example, idioms that don't translate, even across English speaking countries.

What do you call the place you purchase adult beverages? Is it a liquor store, or a package store? Package store is common in the Northeast, while folks in Milwaukee know it as the beer depot, and Pennsylvanians might call it the ABC store. Tell us your preferred term!
 
Spanglish. What's it all about? Is it a real language, or just a funky amalgam? Ilan Stavans' book Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language traces the varieties of Spanglish that have sprung up around the country, and includes his controversial translation of the first chapter of Don Quixote into Spanglish. Still, by academic standards, Spanglish itself is not technically a language.

On a previous episode, we discussed the origins of doozy, and boy did we get some responses! Many of you called and wrote to say that the Duesenberg luxury car is the source of the term. While the car's reputation for automotive excellence may have reinforced the use of term, the problem is that the word doozy appears in print at least as early as 1903. The car, however, wasn't widely available until about 1920.

Would you be intimidated if someone tried to rob you while wearing a balaclava? What about a ski mask? Trick question: they're the same thing! The head covering recently made popular in the Pussy Riot protests is known as a balaclava. The name comes from the Port of Balaclava on the Black Sea, an important site in the Crimean War, and the headgear worn there to protect against the bitter cold.

Here's one to clear up this confusing rule: i before e, except when you run a feisty heist on a weird beige foreign neighbor. Got it?

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.



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Polyglot Problems - 1 July 2013


Mon, Jun 24, 2013


This week on "A Way with Words": Say you're in line at the drugstore. Does it bother you if the cashier says, "Next guest"? In department stores and coffeeshops, does the term "guest" suggest real hospitality -- or just an annoying edict from corporate headquarters?

And speaking of buzzwords, has your boss adopted the trendy term "cadence"?  Also: words made up to define emotions, like "intaxication." That's the euphoria you get when you receive your tax refund--that is, until you remember it was your money to begin with. Plus, wide-awake hats, cheap-john, the problems of polyglots, and the many meanings of dope.


FULL DETAILS

Emotions can be hard to define. That's why there's The Emotionary, a collection of words made up specifically to capture emotions in a single word, like "intaxication" -- the euphoria of getting a tax refund--until you realize the money was yours to start with.

Jeff from Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, wants to know if he's wrong to say, I'm going over Martha's house, meaning "I'm going over to Martha's house." He's always left out the word to from that phrase. His wife argues that he's implying that he's going to fly over the person's house. The expression going over, as opposed to going over to, is a case of locative prepositional deletion, which occurs when we take out a preposition when talking about direction or destination. This particular version sometimes occurs in Massachusetts, where, as it happens, Jeff grew up.

So you think you hate puns? Wait until you hear this item from a Singapore newspaper about a Japanese banking crisis.

Every tub on its own bottom suggests that every person or entity in a group should be self-sufficient. This idiom, often abbreviated to ETOB, is common in academic speech to mean that each department or school should be responsible for raising its own funds. But the phrase goes back at least 400 years, when a tub meant the cask or barrel for wine. The metaphor of a tub on its own bottom appears in religious texts from the 1600s, referring to a foundation to which one should adhere.

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski shares a game called Just O.K. Take a word, add the letters O and K, then transpose the letters to form a new word. For example, what froggy word could you form by adding an O and a K to the word car?
 
The terms anyhoo, or anywho, signaling a conversational transition, are simply variants of anyhow, and originated in Ireland.

The term cheap-john can refer to a miserly fellow, and also to a pawnbroker's shop.

If your boss drives you crazy with the word cadence, you're not alone. This business buzzword, referring to steady, efficient scheduling, was popularized in the 90s after IBM published a paper about sales called Chaos to Cadence. And you know how synergistic the business world is—sooner or later, everyone will be utilizing it!

Those soft felt hats that folks like the guy on the Quaker oatmeal box wear? They're called wide-awakes. The etymology of this term is actually a pun--a reference to the fact that they're made out of smooth material that has no nap!

What exactly is dope? Over time, it's meant marijuana, heroin, steroids, butter, coffee, drugs given to racehorses, and myriad other substances affecting the recipient in some excitable way. The term didn't come to mean marijuana until the '40s, and if you were born before 1970s, chances are you'd think stoned means drunk.

Amanda Kruel from Knoxville, Tennessee, wrote to say that ten years after learning French, she was studying German and her mind would jump from German to French, instead of English, when she was at a loss for a word. This is known as faulty language selection, and it happens to a lot of polyglots. A Florida community-college professor blogging at Sarah on Sabbatical has a nice roundup of research on the topic. She relates her own experience of working in a hotel in Bavaria and not being able to translate to French for some tourists, even though she spoke French.

What's the difference between addicting and addictive? Not much, although addictive is the older term. Grant suggests that addicting is more about a quality of the person being affected, whereas if something's addictive, that's an inherent property of the substance itself. So if you can't log off of Netflix, you'd say that Netflix is addicting.

When you have to ask someone to repeat themselves three times and you still can't figure out what they're saying, you may as well feignderstand, or pretend to understand. It's yet another made-up term from The Emotionary.

Jerry from New York City is annoyed that clerks in his local drug store and coffee shop baristas refer to him not as a customer, or a patron, but as a guest. He thinks guest sounds contrived, and should be reserved for hoteliers and the like. Well, Disney's been using guest since the 70s, and more and more businesses are following suit.

Need a word for the cheerful but futile advice one offers despite knowing that the recipient's efforts might not pan out? Try floptimism.

Mike from St. Augustine, Florida, wants to know about a family expression quicker than Goody's moose? It's actually a variation of quicker than Moody's goose, which in turn comes from a 19th Irish saying involving a "Mooney's goose." No one's sure who Mooney was.

Here's a traditional Irish saying about someone who's cheap: He'd skin a louse and send the hide and fat to market.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Ride the Merry-Go-Round - 24 June 2013


Sun, Jun 23, 2013


A pint-sized mad scientist, a green-haired girl with a contagious sense of wonder, and a 10-year-old detective. They're all characters in the books on Grant's latest list of recommended books for children. Also, what's the word for a female octopus? How about a male kangaroo? A colorful book for younger kids has those answers and more. And the debate over "on accident" versus "by accident": Which one you use probably depends on how old you are. Plus, if you hop on a merry-go-round, are you moving clockwise or counterclockwise? The answer depends on which side of the pond you're on.


FULL DETAILS

Tuna may be the chicken of the sea, but octopi, lobsters and crabs are the hens. That is, the females of each those species is called a hen. Aaron Zenz's lovely book for children I Love Ewe: An Ode to Animal Moms offers a little lesson about female names in the animal kingdom. He does the same for the males of the species in Hug a Bull: An Ode to Animal Dads.

Holy wha, a Yooper corruption of wow, is specific to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Evidently, it comes in handy when spotting a bear.

An adult male cat is called a tom. What's the female called? A queen.

Martha Geiger of Sacramento, California, says her French teacher told her that the difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round is that one goes clockwise and the other counterclockwise. True? Actually, there's really no difference between the names, although in England and much of Europe, these rides usually go clockwise; in the U.S., it's the opposite. And to some Americans, a merry-go-round is simply that spinning playground fixture for kids.

Alex Zobler from Stamford, Connecticut, sent along this joke: Knock knock. Who's there? To. To who? You see where this one's going, right?

Our Quiz Guy John Chaneski phones in a game of homophones. For example, what two-word phrase could either be described as a redundant way to name a common crop, or a seasonal attraction at state fairs?

Lauren from La Crescenta, California, says her 98-year-old grandfather uses a rather obscure saying. As a kid, if Lauren or her sister won a meaningless contest, he'd award them an imaginary prize he called the crocheted gidote. Or maybe that's gadoty, or gadote, guhdody, or gadodie -- we've never seen the term before. Similar phrases include You win the crocheted teapot and You win the crocheted bicycle, all suggesting winning a prize that's as useless as, say, a chocolate teapot.

A high-school English teacher asks which is correct: It happened on accident, or It happened by accident? A survey by linguist Leslie Barratt at Indiana State University indicates that most people born after 1990 use on accident, and weren't even aware that by accident was proper, while those born before 1970 almost always say by accident.

An adult male opossum is called a jack, while the female's called a jill. A baby opossum is simply known as cute.

A Dallas listener says that if someone's moving especially slowly, his co-worker exclaims It's like dead lice dripping off you! This phrase, found in Southern and African-American literature from the early 20th century, probably reflects the idea that the person is moving so slowly that they're already dead and any lice on them have starved to death.
 
As composer and writer H.I. Phillips has observed, Oratory is the art of making deep noises from the chest sound like important messages from the brain.

Grant offers of a list of children's books he's been enjoying with his six-year-old son: Yotsuba&!, the energetic and curious Manga character, Pippi Longstocking, Calvin and Hobbes, the mad scientist Franny K. Stein, and the venerable Encyclopedia Brown.

Why are distances at sea measured in knots? In the 1500s, sailors would drop a chip log off the side of the boat and let out the rope for about thirty seconds, counting how many knots on the rope went out. Eventually, one knot came to mean one nautical mile per hour. Incidentally, this same log gave us logbook, weblog, and ultimately, blog.

A female sheep is an ewe, a goat is a nanny, but what's a female kangaroo? A flyer.

The word chow, as in chow hall or chow down, goes back to the British presence in Chinese ports during the 1700s. Chow chow was a pidgin term referring to a mixed dish of various foods, namely whatever was on hand. The joke was that it often contained dog, which is the same joke behind our encased sausage scraps known as hot dogs.

Why do we measure the sea in knots? Why, to keep the ocean tide!

Although a few sticklers cling to the traditional pronunciation of short-lived with a long i, the vast majority of Americans now pronounce short-lived with a short i. Long live the latter, we say.

Does and bucks are female and male deer, respectively. But what do you call female and male gerbils. Why, they're does and bucks, too.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
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Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.



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Bouncy House of Language - 17 June 2013


Sun, Jun 16, 2013


Some people proudly embrace the label cancer survivor, while others feel that's not quite the right word. Is there a better term for someone who's battled cancer? Writers and listeners share the best sentence they've read all day. Plus, koofers and goombahs, Alfred Hitchcock and MacGuffins, why we put food in jars but call it canning, and why ring the door with your elbow means BYOB.

FULL DETAILS

Ever read a sentence that's so good, you just have to look up from the page to let it sink in? Grant offers one from Ezra Pound: "The book should be a ball of light in one's hands."

When someone says, He didn't lick that off the grass, it means he's inherited a behavior from relatives or picked it up from those around them. This phrase is particularly common in Northern Ireland.

Don't bother showing up to a party unless you're ringing the doorbell with your elbow. In other words, BYOB.

Brian from Edison, New Jersey, is pondering this linguistic mystery: The Mid-Atlantic convenience store chain Wawa has a goose as its logo. The Algonquin term for "goose" is wawa, and the French for "goose" is oie, pronounced "wah." Is there a connection between the French and Native American terms? It's probably just another example from a long list of linguistic coincidences resulting from the limited amount of vocal sounds we can make.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska invites us to play Categorical Allies, a game of two-word pairs where the last two letters of the first word lend themselves to the start of the second, and both words fit into one category. For example, what word might follow the name Job? Or the title A Christmas Carol?

Say you've been busy all semester throwing a Frisbee and drinking juice out of a funnel, and now it's finals week. How are you going to study? Just get yourself a koofer! These old tests, which some universities keep around in their libraries, can be great guides in prepping for a current test. Virginia Tech alums claim the term originated there in the early 1940s. In any case, many universities now have koofers, and many are available online at koofers.com.

Why do we call it canning if we're putting stuff in glass jars? The answer has to do with when the technique was discovered. The process of canning came about in the late 1700s, when thin glass jars were used. Factories soon switched to metal cans because they were durable and better for shipping. But after Mason jars came about in the mid-1800s, the process of preserving things at home kept the name canning.

Sam Anderson, a writer for The New York Times Magazine, tweets the best sentence he reads each day, like this from D.H. Lawrence describing the affection of Italians: "They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips."

Should people living with cancer be referred to as cancer survivors? Mary from Delafield, Wisconsin, a breast cancer survivor herself, doesn't like the term. Nor does Indiana University professor emerita Susan Gubar, who discusses this in an eloquent New York Times blog post. Many people living with cancer feel that the word survivor, which came into vogue in the early 90s, now seems inadequate. Some argue that having cancer shouldn't be their most important identifying feature. Others suggest calling themselves contenders or grits. Have a better idea?

Kevin Whitebaum of Oberlin, Ohio, has a favorite sentence from P.D. James's A Taste for Death: "The original tenants had been replaced by the transients of the city, the peripatetic young, sharing three to a room; unmarried mothers sharing social security; foreign students—a racial mix which, like some human kaleidoscope, was continually being shaken into new and brighter colours."

A while back, we talked about ishpy, a popular word among Nordic immigrants meaning something that a child shouldn't touch or put in their mouth. It turns out that lots of listeners with ancestors from Norway and Denmark know the term ishpy, along with ishie poo, ishta, and ish, all having to do with something disgusting or otherwise forbidden.

When is it okay to correct someone's grammar? Grant offers two rules: Correct someone only if they've asked you to, or if they're paying you to. Otherwise, telling someone they should've used I instead of me is just interrupt the conversation for no good reason.

Nick Greene, web editor for The Village Voice, tweeted, "Modern society's greatest failing has been letting Application defeat Appetizer in the War For What Can Be Called an App." There's always antipasti.

Goombah, sometimes spelled goomba, is a term for Italian-Americans that's sometimes used disparagingly. Physicians use the same word for the blobs on CT scans indicating a possible tumor, but this sense probably derives from the evil mushrooms in Super Mario Bros., known as goombas. The game was released in 1986, right about the same time that doctors picked up the term.

Here's a great sentence by Phil Jackson, tweeted by writer Sam Anderson: "I was 6'6" in high school ... arms so long I could sit in the backseat of a car and open both front doors at the same time."

A MacGuffin isn't the name of a breakfast sandwich, but it could be -- that is, if a movie involves characters trying to get that sandwich. The MacGuffin, also spelled McGuffin or maguffin, is any object in a film that drives the story forward, like the secret papers or the stolen necklace. Alfred Hitchcock made the MacGuffin famous, and explained it this way in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: "It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers. We just try to be a little more original."

Judy Schwartz from Dallas, Texas, sent us the best sentence she read all day. It's from William Zinsser's On Writing Well: "Clutter is the disease of American writing." Have a sentence that stopped you in your tracks? Send it our way.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.



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The One Who Brung You (Rebroadcast) - 10 June 2013


Sun, Jun 09, 2013


You've been reading a book but you're just not into it. How do you quit it, guilt-free? How do you break up with a book? Also, what do you ask for when you go through the grocery checkout line: bag, sack, or something else? Plus, brung vs. brought, a swim swim, cuddywifters, pinstriped cookie-pushers, a road trip word game, and more.

FULL DETAILS

How do you know if it's time to break up with a book? You've into the book 50, maybe a 100 pages, but you're just not into it. Is there something wrong with quitting before the end? Tell us where you draw the line.

Let's say an expression you use really bothers your friends or coworkers. Maybe you end sentences with whatnot or etcetera, or you use um as a placeholder, and you want to stop doing it. Here's a tip: Enlist someone you trust, and have them police you, calling your attention to it every time you use that verbal crutch. It should cure you pretty quickly.

A while ago, we played a game involving aptronyms, those monikers that really fit their owners. For example, picture a guy holding a shovel standing next to a hole. His name might be Doug. But a Tennessee listener wrote to suggest another answer: the guy with the shovel might just as well be called Barry. Have a better aptronym to share?

If you say something's going downhill, does that mean things are getting better or worse? Here's the rule: if something's going downhill, it's getting worse, but if things are all downhill from here, they're getting better.

Remember Tom Swifties, those puns where the adverb matches the quote? How about this one: "I love reading Moby-Dick," Tom said superficially.

Our Puzzle Master John Chaneski has a game that should last through your longest road trip. It's a variation of “20 Questions” called “Animal, Mineral or Vegetable. “He gives you a word, and you have to find the animal, mineral or vegetable embedded in it. For example, which of those three things is contained in the word "soaking"?

Mike from Irving, Texas, has a co-worker who regularly uses brung instead of brought. Is it okay to say "he brung something"? Although the word brung isn't standard English, this dialectal variant has existed alongside brought for centuries. It appears in the informal phrase dance with the one what brung you (or who brung you or that brung you), which suggests the importance of being loyal.

“No bucks, no Buck Rogers,” made popular by the 1983 film The Right Stuff, has seen a renaissance in usage among pilots. That is, if you don't pay them what they believe they’re worth, they're not going to fly.

We got a call from Sarah in Dresden, Germany, who's applying to work for the State Department as foreign service officer. She was curious about an article that contained the term pinstriped cookie-pusher. According to William Safire's Political Dictionary, this bit of derogatory slang came into use in the 1920s to refer to diplomats who were perceived as soft or even effeminate. These men in pinstriped suits would attend receptions at embassies where they'd push cookies instead of paper.

If a waiter marks your date as a WW, you know you're in for a pricey bottle of wine. The wine whales, as they're called, take their name from the Vegas whale: those folks who play big at the tables, to the tune of hundreds of thousands or even millions.

Will, a listener from South Burlington, Vermont, says he always considered willy nilly to be his own special phrase. But he's realized over the years that its original meaning has been replaced. What was originated as will I, nill I or will he, nill he -- that is, with or without the will of someone -- has come to mean "haphazard." This transformation likely has to do with its rhyme.

If someone's a cuddywifter, are they a) a wine snob, b) left-handed, or c) a circus clown? Folks in Scotland and Northern England refer to left-handed people as cuddywifters, along with a host of other terms.

After re-reading Stephen Crane's short story The Open Boat, Martha is reminded of one of Crane's poems about perspective, known as A man saw a ball of gold in the sky.

If someone asks for their groceries in a bag, does that mean they want paper or plastic? For Jean-Patrick in Dallas, Texas, has had plenty of experience bagging groceries, and says his customers use the term bag specifically to mean the paper kind. We don't have evidence that there are different names for these containers in different parts of the country, but we'd love to hear from our listeners on this one.

When someone's going for a swim swim, it means they're doing it for real, laps and all. If they're going to a party, that's probably going to be more sedate than a party party. These are examples of what linguists call contrastive focus reduplication, in which we emphasize a term by reusing it, rather than tacking on another adjective. For example, you might just like someone, but then again you maybe you like like them.

When it comes to marriage, you've got to work with your OH—that is, your other half. Lexicographers for the Oxford English Dictionary are tracking this initialism, as well as DH, or dear husband, for possible inclusion in future editions.

I liked to died when that ol' toad-strangler crashed through the veranda! The Southernism liked to, also known as the counterfactual liketa, derives from the sense of like meaning "nearly." If you have some favorite regional language, please share it with us.

One of Kentucky's finest, Wendell Berry, wrote this in his poem "The Real Work": "It may be that when we no longer know what to do/ we have come to our real work." Indeed, a smooth life is often a boring life.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, and produced by Stefanie Levine.
....

Support for AWWW comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, who mission since 1979 has been to unleash the power and potential of people and organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership development solutions at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

And from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
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Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
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Copyright 2013, Wayword LLC.



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On the Shoe Phone - 3 June 2013


Sun, Jun 02, 2013


First names like "Patience," "Hope," and "Charity" are inspired by worthy qualities. But how about "Be-courteous" or "Hate-evil"? The Puritans sometimes gave children such names hoping that their kids would live up to them. Also, even some feminists are discarding the name "feminist." Plus, reticent vs. reluctant, sherbet vs. sherbert, mosquitoes vs. lawyers, and a word for that feeling in your toes after a great kiss.

FULL DETAILS

Patience, Hope, and Charity are pretty ambitious things to name your children. But what about Hate-evil, Be-courteous, or Search-the-scriptures? Or Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith? Puritan parents sometimes gave their kids so as to encourage those qualities. They're called hortatory names, from the Latin for "encourage" or "urge."

What's the difference between a mosquito and a lawyer? One's a bloodsucking parasite, and the other's an insect. This bait-and-switch joke, like many good paraprosdokians, get their humor by going contrary to our expectations.

A debate has been raging within the Conductors Guild. Should that organization's name have an apostrophe? Most board members contend that for simplicity and clarity, the name should go without an apostrophe. The hosts concur.

That thing when someone kisses you so well that your toes curl up? It's called a foot pop.

Is it incorrect to say I could use a drink rather than I want a drink? A California man says his Italian partner claims this use of use is incorrect. It may be a verbal crutch, but it's still correct English.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska feeds us a game of spoonerisms, or rhyming phrase pairs where the first sounds are swapped. For example, what do a stream of information in 140 characters and a better tailored suit have in common? Or how about a Michael Lewis book about baseball and a shopping destination for rabbits?

A caller from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, says that cops in Canada will often say to contact them on their shoe phones. The shoe phone comes from Maxwell Smart, the hapless hero of the 1960s sitcom Get Smart, who kept a phone on the sole of his shoe. The phrase has now come to refer to any surreptitiously placed phone.

Before the days of the Square, vendors had to run a credit card through rough, bulky machine called a knucklebuster that had the capacity to do just that.

Order in the court, the monkey wants to speak, the first one to speak is a monkey for a week! This children's rhyme appears in print in the 1950s, and Israel Kaplan mentions it in When I Was a Boy in Brooklyn, his take on growing up in New York in the 20s and 30s. Many of his rhymes were less tame.

The poet Marianne Moore was once asked to come up with car names for the Ford Motor Company, and if it wasn't for the genius of their own term, the Edsel, we could've been driving around in Resilient Bullets, Varsity Strokes, or Utopian Turtletops.

The term vegan was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, the founder of the U.K. Vegan Society, who insisted that the original pronunciation was VEE-gin. However, some dictionaries now allow for other pronunciations, such as VAY-gin or even VEDJ-in.

If a phone in your shoe or your glasses isn't futuristic enough for you, check out morphees. They're smartphones and handheld gaming devices that can bend and change shapes.

Is it time for feminists to ditch the label feminist? Women's studies professor Abigail Rine is among those struggling with that question. She argues that conversations about feminist issues are often held up by discussions about the label itself, and its negative connotations in particular. Meanwhile, some are trying to replace the word patriarchy with kyriarchy, from the Greek for "lord" or "master" (as in Kyrie Eleison, or "Lord, have mercy) since matters of discrimination don't just fall along gender lines.

Sherbet is pronounced SHUR-bit. There's no r before the t, and there's no need to add one. If it still seems too complicated, you might just order ice cream or sorbet instead.

Noah Webster originally tried changing the spelling of hard ch words to begin with k, as in karacter, but the shift never caught on, as is usually the case with spelling reforms.

Is there a difference between reticent and reluctant? Reticent more specifically involves reluctance to speak--it comes from the Latin root meaning "silent," and is a relative of the word tacit--whereas you can be reluctant to do anything.

Say you're a novelist working on your magnum opus. While you're shuffling through the produce aisle, an idea strikes you and you can't stop thinking about it. That's what they call a plot bunny.

Lori from Swansboro, North Carolina, wonders about pure-T mommicked, which in many parts of the South and South Midlands means "confused." Its sense of "harrass, tease, impose upon" is particularly common in North Carolina. It apparently derives from the verb mammock, meaning to tear into pieces, actually shows up in Shakespeare's Coriolanus. The pure-T is a variant of pure-D, a euphemism for pure damned.

This past spring was a cold one, wasn't it? Some have taken to calling it February 90th.

This episode was hosted by Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.



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Fake English (Rebroadcast) - 27 May 2013


Sun, May 26, 2013


Everyone knows you don't start a sentence with "But." But why? We sort out the confusion over this little word. Also, how voice recognition technology is changing the way we think and write, and what English sounds like to foreigners. (Hint: It's not pretty.) Plus, where cockamamie comes from, oddly translated movie titles, trucker slang, patron vs. customer, hashtags, pungling, paralipsis, and more.

FULL DETAILS

Quiz time! Does pungle mean a) a baby platypus, or b) a verb meaning "to put down money."  It's the latter. The term pungle is most common in the Western United States. It comes from the Spanish pongale, an imperative meaning "put it down." For example, you might pungle down cash at a poker table or a checkout counter.

Michelle, a middle school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, says her students believe they've invented a new word for "an injury received from a fist bump or dap." They say they created fistumba as a combination of fist and Zumba, the popular dance exercise. They're wondering how to improve their chances of spreading this new word, and they've been discussing the children's book Frindle, by Andrew Clements, which is about inventing and trying to popularize a new term.

"We don't want to dwell on the need for your donations, so we'll stop talking about how important they are." Rhetorical statements like this one, where the point is actually made by pretending to avoid it, is often called paralipsis or paraleipsis. The terms come from the Greek word meaning "to leave aside."

In truck driver slang, a bedbugger is "a moving van that hauls furniture." That's one example of trucker lingo that Martha picked up during her appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio's call-in program, The Ben Merens Show.

Kathleen from Hebron, Connecticut, is curious about the term hashtag. She associates it with the symbol #, which she calls a pound sign. When that symbol, also known as a hash mark, pound sign, doublecross, hatch mark, octothorpe, or number sign, is appended to clickable keywords, the whole thing is known as a hashtag. It's used on Twitter, among other places, to help label a message on a particular topic.

If you're a fan of yard sales, you'll love this game from Puzzle Guy John Chaneski. Suppose you go yard-saling, but only at the homes of famous people. The items you find there are all two-word rhymes. At the house of one powerful politician, for example, you find he's selling his flannel nightclothes. Can you guess what they're called?

Richard from San Diego, California, has a hard time believe that the term cockamamie doesn't derive from Yiddish. Although the word was adapted by Jewish immigrants in New York City to refer to transferable decals, it comes from French decalcomania. Cockamamie, or cockamamy, is now used to describe something wacky or ridiculous, and it's often heard among those familiar with Yiddish.

What film, when translated from its Spanish version, is known as An Expert in Fun? It's Ferris Bueller's Day Off! Now take a crack at decoding these two: Love without Stopovers, and Very Important Perros.

Suzie, who works at the Dallas Public Library, is wondering why librarians are being asked to refer to their patrons as customers. Does the word customer make consulting a library and borrowing books feel too much like a transaction? Eric Patridge, in his 1955 book The Concise Usage and Abusage, explains that you can have a patron of the arts, but not of a greengrocer or a bookmaker. What do you think people who use a library should be called?

Back in 1867 a newspaper in Nevada used the verb pungle to lovely effect: "All night the clouds pungled their fleecy treasure."

The modifier lamming or lammin', is used as an intensifier, as in "That container is lammin' full," meaning "That container is extremely full." There's a whole class of intensifying words like this in English, which have to do with the idea of hitting, banging, thumping, or striking. Another example: larrupin'.  The word lammin' in particular popped up in a bunch of cowboy novels after Zane Grey popularized the term in his books.

Do you listen to our show on an alligator radio? We're guessing not, since this bit of trucker slang refers to the CB radios that transmit a strong signal but are terrible for receiving. Like an alligator, they're all mouth and no ears.

Voice recording technology is making it easier than ever to dictate text rather than write it. Richard Powers, author of the 2006 National Book Award winner The Echo Maker, wrote most of that book by dictating it into a computer program. Of course, dictating to humans has been happening for centuries. John Milton is said to have dictated Paradise Lost to his daughters, and Mark Twain supposedly dictated much of his Autobiography. But as Powers explained in an essay, dictating to a computer changes the way one puts words on the page.

Every elementary school student is taught never to start a sentence with "But." But why? Teachers of young students often warn against beginning with "But" or "And" simply as a way of avoiding a verbal crutch. All mature writers develop an instinct for what tone they're going for, who their audience is, and what kind of style their content demands. But there's no universal rule against starting a sentence with the word "but."

David, a lawyer from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, subscribes to the Lexis Legal News Brief, and wonders about the connection between lex meaning "law," and the lex which refers to "words." While lexis refers to the total stock of words in a language, lexicon means the vocabulary of an individual or a specific branch of knowledge. They all come from an ancient root leg-, having to do with the idea of "collecting" or "gathering," which also gives us the suffix -logy, as in the study of something.

If you're driving an 18-wheeler and want to warn fellow truckers about a piece of blown tire lying in the middle of the road, you'd tell them to watch out for the alligator. Come to think of it, the crocodilian reptile and the rubber remnant do share a passing resemblance.

Kids often imitate French or Chinese speakers without knowing the language,. But have you ever tried to imitate the English language, or speak fake English? There are lots of YouTube videos that give an idea of what English sounds like to native speakers of foreign languages.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett and produced by Stefanie Levine.

....

Support for AWWW comes from The Ken Blanchard Companies, who mission since 1979 has been to unleash the power and potential of people and organizations everywhere.  More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership development solutions at kenblanchard.com/leadership.


Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.



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Can of Worms (Rebroadcast) - 20 May 2013


Sun, May 19, 2013


What do you call a guy with a bald pate? A chrome dome? Maybe the lucky fellow is sporting a solar panel for a sex machine. Also, which would you rather open: a can of worms or Pandora's Box? Plus, ordinary vs. ornery, versing vs. versus, dishwater vs. ditchwater, the copyediting term stet, still hunts, and doozies. And if someone's a phony, is he a four-flusher or a floor-flusher? Maybe he's also a piece of work.

FULL DETAILS

Has anyone collected the stuff bald people say? How about a busy road grows no grass, or God only made so many perfect heads—the rest he covered in hair. Jorge Luis Borges deemed the 1982 Falklands War between the UK and Argentina as "a fight between two bald men over a comb."

If someone seems too good to be true, he may be a four-flusher. This term for "a fake" or "a phony" comes from the poker slang four-flusher, meaning someone who has four cards of a suit but not yet the full flush. Some people confuse the term as floor-flusher, like in the 1954 Popeye cartoon about a plumbing mishap that makes humorous use of this expression.

Is someone dull as ditchwater or dishwater? The more common phrase, which came into use much earlier, is ditchwater.

What do you call the rear compartment of a station wagon or minivan? Many know it as the way back, not to be confused with the regular back, which is more likely to have seat belts.

Who knows if Harry means "hairy," but we do know that the name Calvin means "bald." It derives from the Latin calvus, which means the same thing, and is also the root of the term Calvary.

Quiz Guy John Chaneski plays master of ceremonies for the Miss Word Pageant, a popularity contest for words based on their Google search frequency. For example, between bacon, lettuce and tomato, bacon takes the prize by far for most Google hits, while lettuce brings up the rear. What’d lettuce do for the talent portion?

What's the difference between Pandora's box and a can of worms? In Greek myth, the contents of the fateful box belonging to Pandora (literally, "all gifts" in ancient Greek) were a mystery. WIth a can of worms, on the other hand, you know the kind of tangled, unpleasant mess you're in for. It's worms.

Does the possessive “s” go at the end of a proper name ending in “s”? What's the possessive of  a name like James -- James' or James's? Either's correct, depending on your style guide. The AP Stylebook says you just use an apostrophe, but others say to add the “s”. Your best bet is to choose a style and then be consistent.

The term callow goes back to Old English calu, meaning "bald." The original sense of callow referred to young birds lacking feathers on their heads, then referred to a young man's down cheek, and eventually came to mean "youthful" or "immature."

The word stet was borrowed from the Latin word spelled the same way, which translates "let it stand." Stet is commonly used by writers and editors to indicate that something should remain as written, especially after a correction has been suggested.

Why do we refer to a draw in tic-tac-toe as a cat's game? Throughout the history of the game, cats have been associated with it. In some Spanish-speaking countries, for example, it's known as gato, or "cat."

Photos and tests from the Mars Rover show an abundance of hematite, a dark red mineral that takes its name from the Greek word haima, meaning "blood." Another mineral, goethite, is named for the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an amateur geologist whose collection of 18,000 minerals was famous throughout Europe.

Is versing, meaning "to compete against someone," a real verb? In the past thirty years, this term has grown in popularity because versus, when spoken, sounds like a conjugated verb. So youngsters especially will talk about one team getting ready to verse another. Similar things happened with misunderstanding the plural forms of kudos (in ancient Greek, "glory") and biceps (literally, "two-headed") — both of those words were originally singular.

To sell woof tickets, or wolf tickets, is African-American slang meaning "to threaten in a boastful manner."  Geneva Smitherman, a professor at Michigan State University who's studied the term, believes it has its origins in the idea of a dog barking uselessly.

The term doozie, which refers to something good or first rate, may derive from daisy, as in the flower, sometimes considered an example of excellence. It might also have to do with the Italian actress Eleanora Duse, who toured the States in the 1890s.

Goethe wasn't all about the minerals. He's also quoted as saying, "One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." Goethe also said, "Everything is simpler than one can imagine and yet complicated and intertwined beyond comprehension," which seems quite appropriate for a poet whose name graces rocks on another planet.

What does it mean if someone's on a still hunt? This hunting term, for when you're walking quietly to find prey, has been conscripted by the political world to refer to certain kinds of campaign strategies.

Can ordinary also mean "crude" or "crass"? This usage was more common in previous generations, but it is acceptable. It's also the source of ornery, meaning "combative" or "crotchety."

If someone's a piece of work, they're a real pain in the rear. Merriam-Webster defines a piece of work as "a complicated, difficult, or eccentric person." The expression appears to derive  from Hamlet.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.



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Got Your Six - 13 May 2013


Sun, May 12, 2013


Starting this year, Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants not only have to spell words correctly. A controversial new rule means they'll have to answer vocabulary questions, too. Also, when it comes to reading text, do you prefer "paper" or "plastic"? Some research suggests that comprehension is slightly better when you read offline instead of on a screen. And the term winkle out, plus bike slang, the military origin of I've got your six, why the word awfully isn't awful, and where you'll find onion snow.

FULL DETAILS

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, long beloved for its youngsters stammering out words like appoggiatura, is about to change this year, when they're also forced to define words like appoggiatura. Officials added two rounds of computerized vocabulary tests to the early rounds of the tournament. In some circles, though, this new rule spells C-O-N-T-R-O-V-E-R-SY.

If someone's got your six, it means they've got your back. This expression comes from the placement of numbers on an analog clock, and appears to have originated with military pilots.

Is there such thing as a half a hole? Most holes are whole holes, but even half holes are whole holes, if you think about it. In any case, it's a fun conundrum, sort of like asking someone if they're asleep. Children's book author Robert McCloskey had some fun with a similar idea in a little ditty in one of his Homer Price stories.

Michel de Montaigne once wrote, "A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears." This is a classic example of chiasmus, or a reversal of clauses that together make a larger point.

Our Quiz Guy Greg Pliska takes a break from his music career to bring us a game called Initia-rithmetic. For example, if he says there are 4 P's depicted on M.R., what do those initials stand for? The answer to that one is, you might say, monumental.

Lesley Tweedie from Chicago, Illinois, owns a bike shop, and shares some slang from her workplace. A boomerang bike is one of those bikes that goes out the door and comes back 20 minutes later for another repair. JRA refers to those instances when someone was just riding along when something broke down. And a bikeochondriac is someone who comes in claiming there's something wrong with it, but the wrench (a bike mechanic) just can't find the problem.

When someone's fly is down, do you say XYZ for "Examine your zipper"? For a change of pace, you might try another euphemistic expression used the Southern United States and South Midlands: Is your finger sore? As in, Is your finger too sore to zip up your pants?

What Americans call a cold draft, the British call a cold draught. Noah Webster deserves most of the responsibility for changing the British spelling. Regardless of how they're spelled, both words rhyme with "daft," not "drought."

In parts of Pennsylvania, a late-spring dusting of light snow is called onion snow. It's a reference to the way little green onion shoots are poking through the white.

Is an iPad just a magazine that doesn't work? The now-classic video of a child thumbing over a magazine to no effect comes to mind given a recent article in Scientific American about our comprehension of things read on e-readers as opposed to printed books. As it turns out, we retain slightly more when reading a real book.

Awfully might seem like an awful choice for a positive adverb, as in awfully talented, but it makes sense given the history of awful. Once intended to mean filled with awe, it's now a general intensifier. The process of semantic weakening has meant that awfully, along with terribly and horribly, has become synonymous with the word very. Actually, the word very went through a similar process. Very derives from Latin verus, "true," and is cognate with verify.

Amber from Berlin, New Hampshire, works in a prison, and wants to know why those ominous double sets of prison doors are called by the feminine-sounding name sallyport. Going back to the 1600s, a sallyport was a fortified entrance to a military structure. The name comes from Latin salire, meaning "to go out" or "to leave."

If something needs to be carefully extracted, you'll want to winkle it out. This Britishism comes from winkles, those edible snails that must be gingerly pulled out of their shells.

Keep the ishpee out of your mouth. One caller's parents used to shout Ishpee! when he or his siblings would try and eat dirt, marbles, or whatever they found on the floor. He wonders if this expression is unique to his family. It may be related to the exclamation Ish!, which is used particularly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, when encountering something really disgusting. Ish may derive from similar-sounding words expressions of disgust from Scandinavian languages.

This episode was hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett.
....

Support for A Way with Words also comes from National University, which invites you to change your future today. More at http://www.nu.edu/.

And from The Ken Blanchard Companies, whose purpose is to make a leadership difference among executives, managers, and individuals in organizations everywhere. More about Ken Blanchard’s leadership training programs at kenblanchard.com/leadership.

--

A Way with Words is funded by its listeners: http://waywordradio.org/donate

Get your language question answered on the air! Call or write with your questions at any time:

Email: words@waywordradio.org

Phone:
United States and Canada toll-free (877) WAY-WORD/(877) 929-9673
London +44 20 7193 2113
Mexico City +52 55 8421 9771

Donate: http://waywordradio.org/donate
Site: http://waywordradio.org/
Podcast: http://waywordradio.org/podcast/
Forums: http://waywordradio.org/discussion/
Newsletter: http://waywordradio.org/newsletter/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/wayword/
Skype: skype://waywordradio

Copyright 2012, Wayword LLC.



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